NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 31:  Executive Producer Stephen Hillenburg attends the World Premiere of "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Paramount International

Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, announced he has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the neurodegenerative disease more commonly known as ALS. The 56-year-old animator shared the news in a statement to Variety, explaining that he will continue working on the show.

“I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS.,” Hillenburg states. “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, a former marine biologist, first developed the popular Nickelodeon SpongeBob series in 1996. It made its TV debut in 1999 and was picked up for a 10th and 11th season last March. Along with the show, he directed 2004’s The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and was a co-writer and executive producer on the 2015 sequel. The animator received two Emmy Awards for his work. 

“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," Nickelodeon stated. "Out of respect for their wishes for privacy, we will have no further comment.” Hillenburg lives with his wife Karen (fun fact: Plankton's wife was named after her) and their son Clay.

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