This past Monday, beloved creator and animator Stephen Hillenburg passed away at the age of 57 in his Southern California home after a 20-month battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Hillenburg is best known for his work with Nickelodeon, most notably the cultural phenomenon, “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Hillenburg worked on the show full-time as a writer, director and animator. Before Spongebob, he worked as a director and writer for the hit Nickelodeon show, “Rocko’s Modern Life,” which ran from 1993 to 1996.
“SpongeBob Squarepants” began in the summer of 1999 with Hillenburg at the helm of the show. Hillenburg had a heavy hand in the production of the show and held that until after the release of “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.” After the film’s release, Hillenburg didn’t want the show to run any longer, but Nickelodeon pushed for more episodes. As a result, Hillenburg resigned and left the title of showrunner to Paul Tibbitt, but would remain connected to the project, serving as executive producer.
Hillenburg returned to the show as the co-writer of the 2015 movie, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water,” and announced he would work on the show for as long as he was able to.
“SpongeBob” was the definition of a cultural phenomenon. The brand on its own has grossed over $8 billion for Nickelodeon and the two feature-length “SpongeBob” movies have grossed a little over $465 million worldwide.
It has managed to engrave itself in many people all over the world, including people on URI’s campus. Take junior Zoë Hayn, for instance. She’s been watching “SpongeBob” for years and she finds that the show has stuck with her as she finds herself quoting classic “Spongebob” episodes to this day. “SpongeBob,” for her, is just mindless fun that can take her away from the real world for a moment.
“SpongeBob was always nice, fun, light-hearted nonsense,” Hayn said. “It was always something that made me happy.” Hayn’s personal favorite episode is “Band Geeks,” specifically the Bubble Bowl moment at the end of the episode.
For junior Meaghan O’Donovan, “SpongeBob” was her childhood. She found that she watched a lot of TV as a child and “SpongeBob” was one of those shows that she connected with from a young age and that stayed with her throughout her life.
“Spongebob is always fun to watch and it is so unconventional,” O’Donovan said. “You don’t realize how relatable the characters are until later on in life. You root for SpongeBob and Patrick, but you realize how much of a Squidward and a Plankton you are.”
It was clear that Hillenburg created a phenomenon and will be missed dearly. Often times, the creator falls into the background of the production of our favorite pieces of entertainment and we don’t realize their greatness fully until they’re unfortunately taken away from us.
The same can be said for Hillenburg; his drive and desire to entertain people of all different ages with this unique cartoon. Hillenburg is survived by his mother, Nancy; his son, Clay; his brother, Brian; and his nieces, Emma and Hazel.