“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,”he told the trade publication. “My family and I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support. We ask that our sincere request for privacy be honored at this time.”
Nickelodeon, which airs “SpongeBob SquarePants,” also released a statement: “Stephen Hillenburg is a brilliant creator who brings joy to millions of fans. Our thoughts and support are with Steve and his family during this difficult time. Out of respect for their wishes for privacy, we have no further comment.”
Hillenburg translated his love of the ocean and its creatures first into becoming a marine biology teacher and then later into creating “SpongeBob SquarePants.” In an interview with the New York Times, he explained the genesis of the curious character: “I wanted to do a show about a character that was an innocent, and so I focused on a sea sponge because it’s a funny animal, a strange one.”
“SpongeBob” first made his debut in 1999 as Nickelodeon’s first original Saturday morning cartoon, which then later moved to primetime. Popular with kids and adults alike, the series has attracted its share of guest voice actors ranging from David Bowie and Amy Poehler to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and Ricky Gervais.
Hillenburg also directed 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” and co-wrote and executive produced the character’s 2015 film as well. He’s currently and executive producer on the series, which has topped 200 episodes and is the second longest-running animated children’s series on U.S. television. It is the longest-running Nickelodeon series ever.
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a rare but terminal neurodegenerative disease. It also is known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named for the baseball player whose diagnosis helped spread its awareness. Physicist Stephen Hawking also suffers from ALS.