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SpongeBob SquarePants creator dies at 57

‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ creator Stephen Hillenburg, marine biology teacher turned cartoonist, dies at 57
 
Stephen Hillenburg, who died of ALS, drew on his love of the sea to create the cheerfully absurd SpongeBob SquarePants and an array of aquatic side characters
The beloved show spawned hundreds of episodes for Nickelodeon, movies and a Broadway show.

Hillenburg had announced he had the disease in March 2017. His death comes just weeks after the passing of another cartoon hero in Marvel creator Stan Lee.

 

An Oklahoma native with a love of both drawing and marine biology, Hillenburg conceived, wrote, produced and directed the animated series that began in 1999 and went on to spawn hundreds of episodes, movies and a Broadway show.

“He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family,” Nickelodeon’s statement said. “Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humour and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”

The absurdly jolly SpongeBob, his starfish sidekick Patrick, and a vast cast of oceanic creatures quickly appealed to college kids and parents as much as it did kids.

“The fact that it’s undersea and isolated from our world helps the characters maintain their own culture,” Hillenburg said in 2001. “The essence of the show is that SpongeBobis an innocent in a world of jaded characters. The rest is absurd packaging.”

Born at his father’s army post in Lawton, Oklahoma, Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University in California in 1984 with a degree in natural resource planning with an emphasis on marine resources, and went on to teach marine biology at the Orange County Marine Institute.

He shifted to drawing and earned a master of fine arts degree in animation from the California Institute of the Arts in 1992.

That same year he created an animated short called Wormholes that won festival plaudits and helped land him a job on the Nickelodeon show Rocko’s Modern Life, where he worked from 1993 to 1996 before he began to build SpongeBob’s undersea world of Bikini Bottom, which showed off his knowledge of marine life and willingness to throw all the details out the window.

“We know that fish don’t walk,” he said, “and that there is no organised community with roads, where cars are really boats. And if you know much about sponges, you know that living sponges aren’t square.”

The show was an immediate hit that has lost no momentum in the nearly 20 years since its creation. Its nearly 250 episodes have won four Emmys and 15 Kids Choice Awards, and led to an endless line of merchandise to rival any other pop cultural phenomenon of the 2000s.

In 2004, the show shifted to the big screen with The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and a 2015 sequel, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.

A musical stage adaptation bowed on Broadway in 2017, with music from such stars as Steven Tyler, Sara Bareilles and John Legend. It earned 12 Tony Award nominations, including one for best performance by a leading actor for Ethan Slater.

“I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of Stephen Hillenburg,” Slater said in an email Tuesday. “Through working on SpongeBob,’ I got to know him not only as a creative genius, but as a truly generous and kind person. He warmly embraced us on Broadway as the newest members of his wonderful SpongeBob family, and made it so clear from the get-go why he is so beloved: genuine kindness.”

Hillenburg is survived by his wife of 20 years Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg, and a brother, Brian Kelly Hillenburg.

 

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Joel Rodgers

Joel Rodgers joined RSHV News 1 in January 2018 as a reporter/journalist. Prior to joining our team, Joel spent the previous 5 years as a morning show reporter, entertainment reporter, and sports reporter for a local television station. At 6’5”, he's the tallest reporter in the history of Shreveport, but it’s more than just his height that makes this Shreveport native stand out. His editing skills combined with his love for storytelling makes for a creative and talented addition to the RSHV News 1 team. After attending and graduating from Evangel Christian Academy, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism from Northwestern State University. Joel is very active in the Shreveport community having won several competitions in recent years. In 2017, he danced his way to victory in the annual Susan G. Komen event, “Dancing for the Cure." He’s also won the “Mudbug Madness” Crawfish eating contest in back-to-back years and was named the top celebrity chef at the “Louisiana Food Prize” cooking competition. If you have a story idea, news tip, or just want to say "hey" - you can do so by emailing Joel Rodgers at jrodgers@realshreveport.com
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