Stephen Hillenburg revealed the diagnosis to Variety. He’s 55 years old.
The cartoon first aired on Nickelodeon in 1999 and became a multibillion-dollar franchise.
Hillenburg told Variety he plans to keep working on the cartoon for as long as he can.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, as “a rare group of neurological diseases that mainly involve the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement.”
Voluntary muscle movement is necessary for walking, talking and even breathing.
“Currently, there is no cure for ALS and no effective treatment to halt, or reverse, the progression of the disease,” NINDS website states.
|TOKYO, JAPAN - March 23, 2006: Stephen Hillenburg, the writer of a U.S. cartoon "The SpongeBob SquarePants" poses with its charactor SpongeBob SquarePants at an event held at Tokyo International Anime Fair (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)|
‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Creator Stephen Hillenburg Reveals ALS Diagnosis
Stephen Hillenburg, creator of the long-running hit Nickelodeon series “SpongeBob SquarePants,” has revealed that he has been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease ALS.
The 55-year-old animator shared a statement with Variety announcing the diagnosis and his intent to continue working on the series, which has been on the air since 1999.
“I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS.,” the statement reads. “Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ and my other passions for as long as I am able. My family and I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support. We ask that our sincere request for privacy be honored during this time.”
A source close to Hillenburg said he received the diagnosis recently and is in the early stages of the disease. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a rare terminal illness that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
Hillenburg is a former marine biology teacher who channeled his love of the ocean into animation. “SpongeBob” began as a Saturday morning cartoon in 1999, before transitioning to primetime, where it became a multibillion-dollar franchise popular among kids and adult viewers as well.
Hillenburg also directed 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie,” as well as a co-writer and executive producer on the 2015 sequel. He stepped down as the showrunner to work on the first movie but remained an executive producer. Last March, Nickelodeon renewed “SpongeBob” for a 10th and 11th season, which will keep the series on the air for well over 200 episodes.
“Steve Hillenburg is a brilliant creator who brings joy to millions of fans,” read a statement Nickelodeon issued. “Our thoughts and support are with Steve and his family during this difficult time. Out of respect for their wishes for privacy, we will have no further comment.”
'SpongeBob' Creator Stephen Hillenburg Diagnosed With ALS
Says Hillenburg in a statement: "Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on 'SpongeBob SquarePants' and my other passions for as long as I am able."
Stephen Hillenburg, creator of Nickelodeon's long-running smash hit SpongeBob SquarePants, revealed on Monday that he has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.
"I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS," Hillenburg said in a statement released on Monday afternoon, before adding that he has no plans to take a break from his responsibilities on the show. "Anyone who knows me knows that I will continue to work on SpongeBob SquarePants and my other passions for as long as I am able. My family and I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support. We ask that our sincere request for privacy be honored during this time."
No other details were provided, but the 55-year-old was right in mentioning the outpouring of love and support. Following the news, animation boards and social media were flooded with well-wishes and messages of encouragement, both from friends and fans of the show. SpongeBob remains one of the cable network's flagship shows, and the billion-dollar franchise has inspired merchandise, media and two feature films, with another slated for 2019.
According to his bio, Hillenburg is married, to wife Karen, and the couple has one child.
According to the ALS Association, approximately 15 people per day are newly diagnosed with ALS, which is described as "a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord." When the cells die, voluntary muscle control and movement goes too, while the mind remains alert and normal as the patient slowly becomes paralyzed. Life expectancy averages two to five years from the iniital diagnosis, though some patients live more than 10 years.
Should Hillenburg choose to lean on Hollywood, he will find a soft shoulder and a strong contingent of supporters. In recent years, everyone from Jeffrey Katzenberg, Renee Zellweger, Courteney Cox, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Garner have stepped out for BWR co-founder Nanci Ryder, who has been battling the disease since 2014. Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus has supported her pilates guru Mari Winsor, and former NFL star Steve Gleason has made the festival rounds with his Amazon Studios documentary Gleason, which traces his own journey with the mysterious and life-threatening disease.