For some, the name Stephen Hillenburg just sounds like any other name, yet for others who recognize it, the name brings back beloved childhood memories as they know that Stephen Hillenburg was the artist that created the every popular animated cartoon series titled “Spongebob Squarepants.” Hillenburg passed away on November 26, 2018 at the age of 57 due to his battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. His death came less than two years after he announced to the world that he was diagnosed with ALS in March of 2017. After making his announcement he added that he planned to continue working on the show “for as long as I am able.”
Although Hillenburg will most likely always be known as the genius who created “Spongebob Squarepants” it’s worth mentioning a part of his life that many don’t know, a side that ultimately helped and influenced him to create Spongebob. Before creating “Spongebob Squarepants” Stephen Hillenburg wasn’t know as the animator, screenwriter or director, he was better known as Stephen HIllenburg the marine biology teacher.
As a child he grew up in Southern California and developed a love and passion for two things: art and the ocean. In 1984 Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in natural resource planning and interpretation, with an emphasis on marine resources. After that he became a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute where he would often use his drawings and illustration as teaching aids. One such teaching aid, entitled “The Intertidal Zone,” was an informative comic book about tide pool animals that would eventually become the characters and concepts for Spongebob Squarepants.
After two years of teaching at the Orange County Marine Institute, Hillenburg stopped teaching to enroll in the California Institute for the Arts where he would eventually earn a degree in experimental animation in 1992. Hillenburg released two successful short films in 1992 entitled “Wormholes” and “The Green Beret” that would eventually earn him a job at Nickelodeon working on the animated series “Rocko’s Modern Life.” In 1994 Hillenburg began to use the characters, themes, and stories in The Intertidal Zone, for what was to become “Spongebob Squarepants.”
“Spongebob Squarepants” has been on air since 1999. In 2004 Hillenburg released “The Spongebob Squarepants Movie” which he intended to be the series finale but Nickelodeon wanted to keep on producing more episodes, because of the disagreement Hillenburg parted ways with the network. After working on various short films, Hillenburg returned to the franchise and agreed to co-write and act as executive producer on “Spongebob Squarepants: Sponge Out of Water.”
While Spongebob isn’t going to be what it once was due to Hillenburg’s death, it is still has a prominent place in pop culture. The fact that is has aired for nearly two decades is a testament to the genius that was Hillenburg, he captivated an audience for years. Stephen Hillenburg was a passionate artist, a gifted storyteller and a great man that will be missed by many and remembered for his contribution to society.