Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of popular animation SpongeBob SquarePants, has died at the age of 57. The cause of death was ALS, which he had been diagnosed with last year.
In 2017, Hillenburg revealed that he had been diagnosed with ALS. The neurodegenerative disease causes the death of neurons which control a person’s voluntary muscles, leading to eventual paralyzation.
The average life expectancy for those afflicted with ALS is between two and five years, and there is currently no cure.
“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement.
Hillenburg — or Steve as he was known to family, friends, and fans — was born August 21, 1961, at Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. After leaving the military, his father, Kelly N. Hillenburg, Jr., became a draftsman and designer for aerospace companies. His mother Nancy taught visually impaired students.
He is survived by his wife of 20 years Karen Hillenburg, son Clay, mother Nancy Hillenburg (nee Dufour) and brother Brian Kelly Hillenburg, his wife Isabel, and nieces Emma and Hazel.