Nov 28, 2018
By Nicole Bitette
Peers, celebrities fondly remember the ‘SpongeBob’ creator, who died Monday.
Stephen Hillenburg, who died Monday from ALS at age 57, was remembered for “changing the face of TV” by Rocko’s Modern Life creator Joe Murray and Fairly OddParents creator Butch Hartman.
While Hillenburg may be best-known for SpongeBob SquarePants, his career at Nickelodeon began with “Rocko’s Modern Life” in 1993, after Murray approached him in the lobby of Ottawa Film Festival in 1992 following a viewing of Hillenburg’s film Wormholes.
“[I] told him about this show I was doing for Nickelodeon called ‘Rocko’s Modern Life’ and asked if he would be interested in working on it,” Murray says in an essay for Variety. “I was already in awe of his talent, and the two of us, neither having worked in television, thought it would be funny to see what kind of havoc we could bring to the medium.”
The iconic characters SpongeBob and Patrick in a still from the Nickelodeon series.
"His mark on entertainment will endure, and his contribution to this world will always be felt."
Hasselhoff wasn’t the only big name to give voice to a “SpongeBob” character, dozens of celebrities made cameos on the series, including David Bowie, Will Ferrell, Johnny Depp, Mark Hamill, Tina Fey, Betty White and Robin Williams.
In 2016, former President Barack Obama even expressed his love for the effervescent sponge, saying at a rally in Michigan that he always “had a soft spot” for the character.
President Obama jokes at a rally in Michigan: "I had a soft spot for Spongebob. Spongebob was probably my favorite” https://t.co/Lsu5L200sq
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) November 7, 2016
“SpongeBob SquarePants” first aired on Nickelodeon in 1999 and is now in its 11th season. It has since expanded into two films, with a third due out via Paramount in 2020. SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical landed on Broadway in 2017, nabbing a Tony award and multiple Emmy nominations.
Director of the Broadway show, Tina Landau, thanked Hillenburg for making her a part of Bikini Bottom.
“This man dreamt & drew & wrote & gave to us: SpongeBob (& so much more.),” she wrote on Twitter. “Thank you, Steve, for your spirit, your creation &, personally, for inviting me to Bikini Bottom.”
Hillenburg told the New York Times in 2001 that he never imagined the series would have such a cult following — or catch on to a mass audience.
“His mark on entertainment will endure, and his contribution to this world will always be felt,” Murray says. “I feel honored to have worked side by side with him, and anyone who knew him or was entertained by his work should be forever grateful. I know I am.”