Filipino fans mourn passing of Spongebob Squarepants creator Stephen Hillenburg

November 28, 2018 - 3:53 PM
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Stephen Hillenburg
Stephen Hillenburg, creator of the popular animated series Spongebob Squarepants is interviewed by Reuters in Singapore, January 28, 2005. (REUTERS/Luis Enrique Ascui/File Photo)

The sudden passing of Stephen Hillenburg, creator of Spongebob Squarepants, saddened many fans in the world, including Filipinos.

Nickelodeon, the channel that airs the popular series, announced his death in the morning of November 28.

Hillenberg was 57 years old and was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, a neurodegenerative condition better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere,” the network said in a statement.

“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,” Nickelodeon added.

Filipino fans joined the world in paying their respects to the American cartoonist. Some of them shared their fondest memories of the long-time running children’s show.

Spongebob Squarepants tells the adventures of a sponge and his friends in the fictional city of Bikini Bottom at the depths of the ocean.

Its first episode premiered in May 1999 in Nickelodeon. It was meant to be for children but the appealed to older audiences as well.

The show gained fame and its episodes were translated into more than 60 languages. Soon, Spongebob Squarepants developed into a cultural icon in many parts of the world, including the Philippines.

Who is Hillenburg?

Before the creation of Spongebob, Hillenburg was a marine biology teacher at the Ocean Institute in California.

It was only during his teaching career that he pursued experimental animation at the California Institute of the Arts, where he earned his masters degree in fine arts in 1992.

He was working at another project for Nickelodeon when he started developing the character of Spongebob.

He revealed in an interview in 2001 that he imagined Spongebob to be a “somewhat nerdy, squeaky-clean oddball.”

The animator admitted back then: “A sponge is a funny animal to center a show on.”

“At first I drew a few natural sponges — amorphous shapes, blobs — which was the correct thing to do biologically as a marine science teacher. Then I drew a square sponge, and it looked so funny. I think as far as cartoon language goes he was easier to recognize. He seemed to fit the character type I was looking for — a somewhat nerdy, squeaky-clean oddball,” the animator said.

His colleagues at the network were also the ones who helped him develop the program. This includes Tom Kenny, who voiced Spongebob.

The show now has more than 250 episodes with two blockbuster movies—
“The Spongebob Squarepants Movie” (2004) and the sequel “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water” (2015).

Its Broadway Musical last year was nominated for 12 Tony Awards.

Hillenburg, meanwhile, was also nominated multiple times for Emmy Awards and won several for the ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards.