Stephen Hillenburg, creator of 'SpongeBob SquarePants,' dies at 57

(Junko Kimura / Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES – Stephen Hillenburg, creator of the popular cartoon series "SpongeBob SquarePants," has died at the age of 57, less than a year after announcing he was battling ALS.

The television home of SpongeBob, Nickelodeon, announced Hillenburg's death Tuesday.

“We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS,” Nickelodeon said in a statement. “He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family. Steve imbued ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ with a unique sense of humor and innocence that has brought joy to generations of kids and families everywhere. His utterly original characters and the world of Bikini Bottom will long stand as a reminder of the value of optimism, friendship and the limitless power of imagination.”

Before creating SpongeBob, Hillenburg worked as a marine biology teacher and used his artistic talents to help teach his students, Variety reports.

Hillenburg left teaching to embark on an animation career in 1987 and created "SpongeBob SquarePants" which premiered on May 1, 1999.

The cartoon series has won numerous Emmy Awards and is dubbed in over 60 languages.