Stephen Hillenburg is a living legend within the cartoon community. As creator and executive producer of the long-running and beloved Nickelodeon show "SpongeBob SquarePants," Hillenbrand continues to infuse his work with a sense of absurdity and genius that has often been mimicked, but never replicated. Sadly, the writer and animator announced recently that he is battling ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
"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," he wrote in a statement. "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.”
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, is a neuro-degenerative disease that effects the neurons in the brain which control voluntary motor functions. There is no known cure, and very little treatment available for those diagnosed. While the life expectancy for those diagnosed is extremely short, roughly 10% of sufferers live a decade or longer after detection of the disease.
Debuting in 1999, "SpongeBob SquarePants" was an immediate hit among both children and adults, going on to become a multibillion dollar franchise including movies, comic books and video games. Nickelodeon recently renewed the show for its tenth and eleventh seasons, which will push the series past two hundred episodes.