Stephen McDannell Hillenburg (August 21, 1961 – November 26, 2018) was an American cartoonist, voice actor, and marine biologist. He was best known as the creator of the Nickelodeon animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants (1999–), which he also directed, produced, and wrote. It has gone on to become the fifth longest-running American animated series.
Born in Lawton, Oklahoma and raised in Anaheim, California, Hillenburg became fascinated with the ocean as a child and developed an interest in art. He started his professional career in 1984, instructing marine biology, at the Orange County Marine Institute, where he wrote The Intertidal Zone, an informative comic book about tide-pool animals, which he used to educate his students. In 1989, two years after leaving teaching, Hillenburg enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts to pursue a career in animation. He was later offered a job on the Nickelodeon animated television series Rocko's Modern Life (1993–1996) after his success with The Green Beret and Wormholes (both 1992), short films that he made while studying animation.
In 1994, Hillenburg began developing The Intertidal Zone characters and concepts for what became SpongeBob SquarePants. The show premiered in 1999 and has aired since then. He also directed The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004), which he originally intended to be the series finale. However, Nickelodeon wanted to produce more episodes, so Hillenburg resigned as the showrunner. He went back to making short films, with Hollywood Blvd., USA (2013). In 2015, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water was released; the second film adaptation of the series, it marked Hillenburg's return to the franchise, wherein he co-wrote the story and acted as an executive producer on the project.
Besides his two Emmy Awards and six Annie Awards for SpongeBob SquarePants, Hillenburg also received other recognition, such as an accolade from Heal the Bay for his efforts on elevating marine life awareness, and the Television Animation Award from the National Cartoonists Society. Hillenburg was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2017, but stated he would continue to work on SpongeBob SquarePants as long as possible. He died due to complications of the disease on November 26, 2018, at the age of 57.
He is also known as Stephen Hillenberg, Steve Hillenburg, Stephen McDannell Hillenburg, Stephen McDannell Hillenberg, Steven Hillenburg, Steven Hillenberg, Steven McDannell Hillenburg, Steven McDannell Hillenberg, Steve McDannell Hillenburg, Steve Hillenberg and Steve McDannell Hillenberg.