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SpongeBob SquarePants Creator Stephen Hillenburg Dead at 57

Stephen Hillenburg, creator of the Nickelodeon cartoon series SpongeBob SquarePants, died on Monday night. He was 57.

Last year, Hillenburg revealed he had been diagnosed with ALS. In a statement, Nickelodeon wrote the following:

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS. He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family. Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor 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.”

There’s no question that SpongeBob SquarePants is one of the most influential animated shows of all time. Its unique brand of surrealist grotesquerie and social parody pushed the boundaries of “children’s” TV programming for a new generation; with adaptations in several movies and a highly successful Broadway musical, Hillenburg’s little yellow sponge will be forever ingrained in our collective cultural imagination. The show had an impressive musical lineage, too, with the likes of David Bowie making cameo appearances. IndieWire recently (under)rated SpongeBob as the 33rd best animated show of all time.