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SpongeBob Squarepants Creator Stephen Hillenburg Reveals ALS Diagnosis

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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

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