“I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS,” the married father of one revealed in a statement to the trade publication. “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.”
Doctors gave the animator the diagnosis recently, an unidentified source told Variety.
ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named for the famous New York Yankees player who died from it in 1941. It attacks nerve cells, resulting in disability and eventual death, the Mayo Clinic states. ALS patients live an average of two to five years from the time of diagnosis, according to the ALS Association.
Hillenburg, a former marine biologist, had originally called his fast-talking sponge character “Sponge, The Boy” but ran into copyright issues, according to a biography. “SpongeBob SquarePants” premiered in 1999 and became a Saturday morning hit that eventually transitioned to prime time.
“Steve Hillenburg is a brilliant creator who brings joy to millions of fans,” Nickelodeon said in a statement to outlets. “Our thoughts and support are with Steve and his family during this difficult time. Out of respect for their wishes for privacy, we will have no further comment.”