Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of Nickelodeon’s hit animated series Spongebob Squarepants, passed away at the age of 57. According to The Hollywood Reporter, his cause of death was ALS, which he was diagnosed with in March 2017. Hillenburg is survived by his wife of 20 years, Karen, and their son Clay.
Hillenburg earned 9 Emmy nominations for Spongebob, which has been airing new episodes since 1999. Before Spongebob, TMZ reports that he got his start in the animated TV industry as a director and writer for Nickelodeon’s Rocko’s Modern Life. In their statement confirming Hillenburg’s death, Nickelodeon wrote “He was a beloved friend and long-time creative partner to everyone at Nickelodeon, and our hearts go out to his entire family.”
While they have not yet released an official statement on his passing, here’s what you need to know about Stephen Hillenburg’s family:
1. He & Karen Were Active Philanthropists
According to Inside Philanthropy, Stephen and Karen donated through the United Plankton Charitable Trust. Their charity focuses on funding for arts & culture, education, and health and human services, especially in Southern California. Some of their past grantees include “Armory Center for the Art, KCRW, LACMA, Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, Pasadena Art Alliance, and Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound (SASSAS).”
Karen works actively with Planned Parenthood, and women’s reproductive health is one of their “largest areas of grantmaking.” In the 2014 Planned Parenthood Annual Report, Karen is listed on the Board of Directors.
The address listed to get in contact with their trust is:
United Plankton Charitable Trust
11400 W. Olympic Blvd., Ste. 590
Los Angeles, CA 90064
2. He Says He Got His Artistic Ability From His Grandmother
In a “Big Pop Fun” interview for Nerdist, Hillenburg revealed that his father, Kelly N. Hillenburg Jr., was a draftsman and part of the Apollo program in Anaheim California. Nevertheless, he said his father did not draw as much as his grandmother on his mother’s side of the family; he credits her with passing her art skills on to him. His grandmother was a gifted painter, but did it mostly as a hobby, as “art school” was not as accessible of an opportunity when she was growing up.
She also made detailed crafts, including felt finger puppets and Christmas ornaments. When she passed away, Hillenburg shared that “the one thing [he] wanted was any of her artwork,” because his “strong connection” with her was through art.
3. He Named a Spongebob Character After His Wife
In the Spongebob Spongebob show, Mr. Krab’s arch-nemesis Plankton’s computer wife is named Karen. She was named after Hillenburg’s wife. The character, one of the two main antagonists on the show, is known for her snarky responses to Plankton’s idea and her superior plots to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula from the Krusty Krab (where Spongebob works as a fry cook).
According to IMDB, neither Karen nor Clay were credited as voicing any characters in the over 250-episode series; however, both have “Special Thanks” credits in the The Spongebob Squarepants Movie and season 3 episode 7 of the TV show (titled “As Seen on TV/Can You Spare a Dime”).
4. Karen is a Chef at a Culinary School
Of their faculty, the New School says that “The teachers at New School all have degrees from respected culinary schools and have worked in the field. They are tested and trained and are committed to providing our students with the best education possible.”
5. His Son, Clay, Shares His Love of Music & Animation
Clay, who is 20 years old, seems to have inherited his father’s love and talent for animation. He is credited on Fandom Wikia as a cartoonist, animator, director, producer, and writer. While his upcoming projects are unconfirmed, the site alleges that he will be involved in upcoming projects for Nickelodeon and Discovery Family.
In a 2013 interview with The New York Times, Hillenburg shared that his son was a drummer, and that he enjoyed “jamming with [his] 14-year-old son” at home. Though he claimed to play the guitar “horribly,” he told the Times that “It’s a great way to bond with each other.”