This is so heartbreaking.
Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, revealed he has been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease ALS.
The animator announced his diagnosis in a statement to Variety, revealing he still intends to work on the hit Nickelodeon cartoon, which has been on the air since 1999, for as long as he is able to.
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Hillenburg noted he was grateful for all the support he's been getting from fans and loved ones, writing in the statement:
"I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS. 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 the 55-year-old said he is in the early stages of the disease, and only received the diagnosis recently. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a rare terminal illness that affects nerves in the brain and spinal cord.
Hillenburg is a former marine biology teacher who migrated his love of the ocean into animation to create the beloved series, which has evolved into a multibillion dollar franchise over the past nearly two decades.
The animator, who also directed 2004's The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, stepped down as a showrunner from the series for a decade before returning as executive producer in 2014.
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SpongeBob was renewed for season 10 and 11 last March, keeping the series on the air for well over 200 episodes.
Nickelodeon released a brief statement on Hillenburg's diagnosis, writing:
"Steve Hillenburg is a brilliant creator who brings joy to millions of fans. 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."
So sad. Our hearts go out to the animator, who we salute for bringing so much joy to the lives of children and adults alike.
[Image via Nickelodeon/Ivan Nikolov/WENN.]
Tags: health, nickelodeon, sad sad, spongebob squarepants, stephen hillenburg, tv news