On Tuesday, November 27th 2018, it was reported that Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob Squarepants, had died of ALS at age 57.
Hillenburg had a lifelong interest in the ocean and studied marine biology. He started his work at Nickelodeon with their classic show Rocko’s Modern Life (which you’ve probably seen on tonnes of those “jokes that we missed as kids” type lists) and after its run finished, he was asked to pitch ideas for a new show.
His fascination with sea life lead to him pitching “Spongeboy Ahoy!” a show about a sea sponge working in a burger joint. After some suggestions and thrown out ideas like the sponge being a child who goes to school and lives with parents, the show would eventually be tweaked into the SpongeBob Squarepants we all know today.
To say Hillenburg’s work had an impact would be the understatement of the century. While he certainly has other notable work, there’s no question that his legacy is with the Krusty Krab’s beloved employee of the month.
Everyone knows of the sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea, his dimwitted best friend Patrick, his grouchy and depressingly relatable neighbour and co-worker Squidward, the guy that always injures his leg off screen, bubble buddy, the chocolate obsessed maniac, the burned up fish who still has his personality, the fish that asked for a couple of ice cubes in his drink but only got one, the talking ceiling in the Krusty Krab training video, the hash slinging slasher, Nosferatu and who could ever forget the biggest prick ever who CAN’T EAT HIS PIZZA WITHOUT HIS DIET DOCTOR KELP. The lineup of residents in Bikini Bottom is nothing short of iconic and the series as a whole has had a bigger cultural impact than almost any show of its era, animated or otherwise.
SpongeBob gave countless hours of entertainment to all of us as kids and adults alike, be it from memories to quoting with friends, to the classic memes, to still watching the sublimely written comedy in its prime. Its three first seasons are some of the most timeless and hilarious cartoon episodes out there, in this writer’s humble opinion.
The show became bigger than Hillenburg could have ever expected, with him hoping for a level of success and popularity equal to that of Rocko’s Modern Life at best. But SpongeBob clicked with audiences of all ages enough to become Nickelodeon’s most popular show and eventually their longest running and is still going today.
The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie was hard for the team. They had to split the work between the series and the movie between them, leading to excessive work. One person on the team said that if you look at the amount they were paid, compared to the amount of work they did, they may have been the most underpaid people on the planet. Thankfully the movie turned out great, becoming a big success and still gets a high recommendation from this writer, as I’d consider it one of the all time best silver screen to big screen adaptations.
After this, Hillenburg stepped back to work on other projects. He was happy to after the first movie, to allow the show to have some new blood working on it after he felt he’d done all he could. Though he would sometimes return as a producer and to work on the second film, Sponge Out of Water (which is pretty alright actually).
Hillenburg may be sadly gone now, far too early at the age of 57 as well. But he will be remembered in the legacy he created at Nickelodeon, cementing himself as an integral aspect of any childhood spent watching the network.
While the series quality dropped after his departure, it has recently picked up some steam. I’d personally recommend the episodes “My Leg” and “Squid Noire” from season 10. So why not take some time out of your day and relive some classic episodes. “Band Geeks”, “Graveyard Shift”, “Sailor Mouth”, “Chocolate with Nuts” and “Pizza Delivery” are all great choices (though there are countless more I’m sure you can think of) or “The Very First Christmas” for something more seasonal.