Stephen Hillenburg dead
Stephen Hillenburg, 57, died on Monday. He’s pictured at the world premiere of “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water 3D” at the AMC Lincoln Square on Jan.31, 2015 in New York City. Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Paramount International

Stephen Hillenburg, who created Nickelodeon’s long-running animated series, “SpongeBob SquarePants,” died on Monday at the age of 57.

The cause of death was ALS, which is “a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord,” according to the ALS Association.

Nickelodeon shared news of Hillenburg’s passing in a statement, Variety reports, writing: “We are incredibly saddened by the news that Steve Hillenburg has passed away following a battle with ALS. He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family.”

The network continued: “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.”

In March 2017, Hillenburg had revealed to Variety that he’d been diagnosed with ALS, which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He shared with the publication that he would still work on his projects for as long as he could.

“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 said. “My family and I are grateful for the outpouring of love and support. We ask that our sincere request for privacy be honored at this time.”

Hillenburg’s “SpongeBob SquarePants,” which is still airing and has spawned multiple movies, first premiered on Nickelodeon in 1999.