Stephen Hillenburg, who created SpongeBob SquarePants, has died at 57. Inhabited with a good-natured pineapple-dwelling yellow sponge along with a motley crew of sea creatures, the Nickelodeon TV app gained huge popularity with both kids and adults over its nearly 20-year run.
Hillenburg died after a battle with ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease. In March announced he had been diagnosed with the neuro degenerative disease.
He was a dear friend and long-time creative spouse to everybody at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family,” the network said in a statement.
Stephen Hillenburg about SpongeBob SquarePants
In a 2004 interview with Fresh Air, Tom Kenny, the longtime voice of SpongeBob, clarifies Hillenburg’s energetic style in the studio.
“Hillenburg definitely is the big kahuna and, a lot of times simply has every vocal nuance and eye blink and twitch mapped out to the nanosecond in his mind. And other times, he will take you off the leash and go, ‘You know, I don’t understand where that is going. Just take it feels funny,'” said Kenny.
As he put it, a few days working on the series was just like doing the math — other days, jazz.
“Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with an exceptional sense of innocence and humor that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere,” the announcement said. “His utterly original characters along with the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of friendship, greed as well as the boundless power of creativity.”
In the late Eighties, Hillenburg left teaching to focus on animation. His 1992 animated short, “Wormholes,” won Best Animated Concept in the Ottawa International Animation Festival, and for the next several years that he worked as a manager and author on Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life.
At a 2009 interview with The Washington Post, Hillenburg spoke about the influences behind SpongeBob’s comedic charm, saying “I think SpongeBob is born out of my love of Laurel and Hardy shorts. You have got that sort of idiot-buddy situation — which has been a huge influence. SpongeBob is a whole innocent — not an idiot. SpongeBob never fully realizes how stupid Patrick is. They are turning up themselves into situations — that’s always where the comedy comes from.”
He lauded the broad and enduring allure of this series: “I fell in love instantly and it seems like some other people did also.”
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