The Life Of Stephen Hillenburg : The Creator Of Spongebob SquarePants


Preston Khoury, Contributor

If there is one thing many kids enjoy, it’s cartoons. There have been several brilliant minds behind these shows. But, one of the most notable ones is Stephen Hillenburg, the creator ofSpongebob SquarePants.” Hillenburg created a show that truly spoke his creative mind on a show that was and still is, loved by millions. The creator of the show sadly passed away last Monday and disappointed millions such as myself. So as a tribute to the man who created “the sponge” we all have watched over numerous years, this is the life of Stephen Hillenburg.

Stephen McDannell Hillenburg was born on August 21, 1961, in Lawton, Oklahoma. He was brought up and raised in Anaheim, California.  At a young age, Hillenburg was very fascinated by the ocean and all of its inhabitants. He later became interested in art when he got a bit older. He started his career in 1984, teaching marine biology at the Orange County Marine Institute ( now called The Ocean Institute). While teaching there, he wrote an informative comic book called The Intertidal Zone. The comic book was about tide-pool animals, which he used to educate his students. In 1987, Hillenburg left the Institute in pursuit of doing art and animation. A couple of years later, in 1989, he enrolled in The California Institute of Arts to study and pursue a career in animation. After graduating, he was offered to work on the Nickelodeon animated TV series, “Rocko’s Modern Life” (1993-1996). He was contacted by Nickelodeon in 1992 due to the success of the short films that he created such as The Great Beret and Wormholes.

In 1994, Hillenburg began developing The Intertidal Zone characters and concepts that would later become “Spongebob SquarePants”. On May 1, 1999, the pilot of “Spongebob SquarePants” premiered after the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards. Then two months later, on July 17, Nickelodeon officially started airing episodes. After a few successful seasons,The Spongebob SquarePants Movie” came out on November 14, 2004, and was directed by Hillenburg himself. The movie made a big splash in the box office grossing 140 million worldwide. The Movie was intended by Hillenburg to be the finale of the show, but Nickelodeon thought otherwise. Nickelodeon didn’t want to lose the most popular show on their network that made them huge profits, and they also owned the rights to the show. Hillenburg soon after resigned as showrunner, leaving Paul Tibbitt to be in charge of the show.

Many fans of the show believe that after Hillenburg left, the show started to sharply decline in quality. However, a surprise would come that would bring the show in the right direction again. On February 6,  2015, the second movie, “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water” was released grossing 325 million. This marked Hillenburg’s return to the franchise as the storyboard writer for the movie. With Hillenburg back in charge of his creation, fans were hopeful that the show would return back to its glory days. Hillenburg hadn’t just only seen recognition by his fans, but he also earned numerous awards for his achievements. He has won two Emmy Awards and six Annie Awards for “Spongebob SquarePants”.

Just as it seemed that everything in Hillenburg’s life and the show was doing well,  it quickly changed for the worse. In early 2017, Hillenburg was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS is a progressive degeneration of the motor neurons of the central nervous system that leads to the waste of muscle and eventually, paralysis. This disease affects the nerve cells in your brain and your spinal cord,  which controls eating, breathing, and walking. The average lifespan after contracting it is two to five years. After his diagnosis, Hillenburg announced his ALS to the public letting them know that he was going to work on his show for as long as he could. Over a year and a half after his diagnosis, on Monday, November 26, 2018, Hillenburg succumbed to his disease and passed away at the age of 57 in San Marino, California.

Hillenburg envisioned a character of innocence and positivity, and he created many characters that are memorable in the show. The show has been on the air for almost twenty years and has been loved by children, teens and even adults. Hillenburg’s legacy will be how he impacted this generation of animation. I loved Spongebob as a kid and I still quite enjoy it as a teen. I may not watch it a lot anymore, but every once and a while I’ll definitely sit down for an episode. Hillenburg impacted many kids’ childhoods with his character, and seeing him gone is like a part of all the fans’ childhood is gone. Hillenburg also serves as an example of taking the two things he loved and making something unique and truly comedic. In the end, may we not forget Hillenburg as the mind behind the sponge that we all grew up with. Rest In Peace : Stephen Hillenburg (1961-2018).