Other than behind-the-scenes work, he voiced Potty the Parrot from 2000 to 2004 and was a ukulele player for some songs, including "Best Day Ever."
It was announced he was diagnosed with ALS on March 13, 2017, but he still continued working on the show, despite his deteriorating health.
Hillenburg passed away on November 26, 2018 due to complications linked to ALS.
In 1984, Hillenburg graduated from Humboldt State University with a bachelor's degree in Natural Resource Planning and Interpretation, with an emphasis on Marine Resources. He became a marine biology teacher at the Orange County Marine Institute--now known as the Ocean Institute--in Dana Point, California. Hillenburg's love for the sea and its creatures inspired him to create teaching tools for his students with characters that would later become the main characters of SpongeBob SquarePants.
In 1987, Hillenburg pursued a degree in Experimental Animation at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia and earned his Master of Fine Arts in 1992. Also in 1992, he won an award for Best Animated Concept at the Ottawa International Animation Festival for his animated short "Wormholes," which was shown at several international animation festivals. From 1993 to 1996, he worked on Nickelodeon's animated series Rocko's Modern Life; during this time, he continued to fine-tune the aquatic series concept that he had begun in the 1980s. It would eventually be pitched to Nickelodeon as SpongeBoy Ahoy! and subsequently renamed SpongeBob SquarePants.
In 2007, a frivolous lawsuit, claiming that a toy inventor named Troy Walker came up with the SpongeBob concept, was filed against Nickelodeon and Hillenburg by a complainant wanting a "ridiculous" total of $1.6 billion from Nickelodeon. The claimant, Troy Walker, did not do enough research on his claims before making them, setting his implausible story in 1991, years after Hillenburg had started work on his concept. A summary judgment quickly ruled in Viacom's favor over the flimsy claims.
In March 2017, Hillenburg revealed that he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a terminal illness that affects and causes the death of neurons that control the brain and the spinal cord. He tried his best to work on the series as best he could from then on.
On November 26, 2018, Hillenburg passed away from ALS-related complications. The day after he died, he was cremated and his ashes were scattered across the coast of California, close to where Bikini Bottom resides. The future of the show is currently in doubt, though Vincent Waller has stated that the show would still continue.
Stephen Hillenburg drew inspiration from his own life while designing the main characters. Mr. Krabs was based on Hillenburg's former manager at a sea-themed restaurant. Pearl was inspired by his regular supervision of whale watches while working as a marine science educator. SpongeBob's design was influenced by Hillenburg's appearance as a young child, with "nerdy gapped teeth."
Sometimes, he is referred to as "Steven or Steve Hillenburg."
After The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie came out, Hillenburg left the show, because he wanted the show to end. However, Hillenburg did not leave the show entirely; he still served as an executive producer.
According to Paul Tibbitt's Twitter feed, Hillenburg came back to work on the series in January2015. This was proven true as he produced some episodes from season 9.
He served as executive producer of the show from 2015 to 2018, after being absent from the position for 10 years and 2 months.
Stephen Hillenburg is the first creator of an animated Nickelodeon series to pass away.
When the Bikini Atoll island is shown at night, a human finger is visible in the water to portray a reflection of the moon. According to the "Christmas Who?" audio commentary, Stephen Hillenburg filmed the Bikini Atoll island at Steve Belfer's house in his friend's pool in California.
He is against revealing the identity of Mrs. Krabs and has kept it a secret throughout the series.
According to Vincent Waller on Twitter, it is known that Stephen himself says he hates the idea of SpongeBob having a crossover with another cartoon, and it's unknown why he dislikes crossovers, probably because he finds them pointless, or he is against the idea of SpongeBob getting a crossover. However, Patchy the Pirate appeared in a Big Time Rush episode only once, meaning Patchy was the only live-action character of the series to appear in another show.
Season 11 is the last season to end before Hillenburg's passing.
"Goons on the Moon" is the last episode to air in airing order before Hillenburg's passing.
Season 12 is the last season to premiere before Hillenburg's passing.
"FarmerBob" is the last episode to air in production order before Hillenburg's passing.
The SpongeBob Movie: The Sponge Out of Water is the last entry of the SpongeBob SquarePants film trilogy to be released during Hillenburg's lifetime.
Nominees: : Chiho Oyamada Carr, Nicolas Carr, Mishelle Fordham, Daisuke Sawa, Monette Becktold, Jeff Hutchins, Timothy J. Borquez, Tom Syslo, Eric Freeman, Dan Cubert, Lawrence Reyes, Jason Stiff, Tony Orozco and Kimberlee Vanek (for "Suction Cup Symphony;" 2009) • Chino Oyamada Carr, Nicolas Carr, Mishelle Fordham, Monette Becktold, Jeff Hutchins, Timothy J. Borquez, Eric Freeman, Tom Syslo, Keith Dickens, Jason Stiff, Sergio Silva, Tony Orozco and Kimberlee Vanek (for "SpongeBob SquarePants vs. The Big One;" 2010)
Best Sound Editing – Sound Effects, Foley, Dialogue and ADR Animation in Television
Nominees: Devon Bowman, Justin Brinsfield, Nicolas Carr, Andrea Anderson, Mishelle Fordham, Monette Becktold, Jeff Hutchins, Eric Freeman, Tony Orozco and Danny Tchibinda (for "Gary's New Toy;" 2013) • Mishelle Fordham, Monette Becktold, Jeff Hutchins, Timothy J. Borquez, Tom Syslo, Eric Freeman, Bobby Crew, Keith Dickens, Gabriel Rossas and Tony Orozco (for "It's a SpongeBob Christmas!;" 2013)