SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg has 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.
Despite the illness, Hillenburg has no plans to cease his involvement in the production of SpongeBob. In a statement, he said, “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.”
Hillenburg, 55, spent the early part of his life teaching marine biology before pursuing a career in animation. After cutting his chops on Rocko’s Modern Life, Hillenburg successfully developed his own animated series in SpongeBob SquarePants. The marine-themed cartoon starring a high-energy sea sponge premiered in 1999 and remains in production as of today. Now one of the longest-running shows in TV history, a total of 209 episodes of SpongeBob have aired to date in addition to two feature-length films.
For his efforts, Hillenburg has received 17 Emmy nominations, twice winning in the categories of Outstanding Special Class Animated Program and Outstanding Sound Editing – Animation in 2010 and 2014, respectively.