Stephen Hillenburg, 55, creator of the hit Nickelodeon series “SpongeBob SquarePants,” revealed that he was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Hillenburg created “SpongeBob SquarePants” which premiered in 1999 and the animated series has gone on to become one of the longest-running American television series and the highest-rated show ever to air on Nickelodeon.
ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a terminal illness that affects and causes the death of neurons that control the brain and spinal cord. The cause for ALS is unknown in 90% to 95% of cases and there is currently no cure. The ALS Association reports that ALS patients live an average of two to five years from the time they are diagnosed. Many of you may recall the “Ice Bucket Challenge” that went viral in 2014 to increase public awareness of the condition.
A source close to Hillenburg stated that he is in the early stages of the disease and that he was recently diagnosed. Hillenburg shared a statement with Variety magazine announcing his diagnosis and commitment to continue working on the series.
“I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS,” he stated. “Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ and my other passions for as long as I am able. My family are I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support. We ask that our sincere request for privacy be honored during this time.”
Hillenburg is a cartoonist, animator, director, producer, writer and former marine-biology teacher. As a child, he became fascinated with the ocean and developed an interest in art simultaneously. “SpongeBob SquarePants” began as a Saturday morning cartoon but later transitioned to primetime, where it became the multimillion-dollar franchise that it is today.
Hillenburg also directed “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” which was released in 2004, and was a co-writer and executive producer in the 2015 sequel. Although he stepped down as a showrunner from the series for a decade, he returned in 2014 as an executive producer. Last March, “SpongeBob SquarePants” was renewed for a tenth and eleventh season.
"Steve Hillenburg is a brilliant creator who brings joy to millions of fans," read a statement Nickelodeon issued. "Our thoughts and support are with Steve and his family during this difficult time. Out of respect for their wishes for privacy, we will have no further comment."