LOS ANGELES – The creator of the animated TV series "SpongeBob SquarePants," Stephen Hillenburg, has died at age 57, said Nickelodeon's television network on Tuesday.
Hillenburg said last year that he was suffering from the neurodegenerative ALS disease, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
"We're very worried about the news that Steve Hillenburg has died following a battle with ALS," said the network in a statement. "He was a dear friend and long-term creative partner for everyone in Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to their entire family."
Hillenburg was a marine biology professor in South California when he started creating sea creatures as a teaching tool.
The first episode of "SpongeBob SquarePants" includes the exciting yellow sea sponge and friends living in the underwater underwater city Bikini Bottom, broadcast on television in May 1999.
The series went on to win multiple prizes, produced a series of spinning books, two Hollywood films and Broadway musician.
"Steve was provoking SpongeBob SquarePants with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of children and families everywhere," said the Nickelodeon statement.
"His totally original characters and the Bikini Bottom world will continue to be a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and seamless power."