SpongeBob Squarepants creator Stephen Hillenburg died today at 57; death cause attributed to his bat

Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of the hit Nickelodeon show "Spongebob Squarepants," has died, the network announced Tuesday. He was 57.

Hillenburg died following a battle with ALS,also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. In March, he announced that he had been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease.

"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," the network said in a statement. 

"Steve imbued SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere," the statement said. "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."

 Stephen Hillenburg poses with SpongeBob at a Tokyo event in 2006.

Junko Kimura/Getty

Hillenburg was born in Lawton, Oklahoma, in 1961. He graduated from Humboldt State University in 1984 with a degree in natural resource planning and became a marine biology teacher in Dana Point, California. In 1987, he pursued a career in animation and graduated with an experimental animation degree from the California Institute of Arts in Valencia in 1992.

The following year, he began working as a writer and director....

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