Stephen Hillenburg, creator of the long-running hit Nickelodeon series "SpongeBob SquarePants", has revealed that he has been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease ALS.
The 55-year-old animator shared a statement with variety.com announcing the diagnosis. However, he will continue working on the series, which has been on the air since 1999.
"I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS," the statement read.
"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 honoured during this time," he added.
A source close to Hillenburg said he received the diagnosis recently and is in the early stages of the disease. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a rare terminal illness that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
Hillenburg is a former marine biology teacher who channelled his love for the ocean into animation.
"SpongeBob SquarePants" began as a Saturday morning cartoon in 1999, before transitioning to prime time, where it became a multi billion-dollar franchise popular among kids and adult viewers as well.
"Steve Hillenburg is a brilliant creator who brings joy to millions of fans," read a statement issued by Nickelodeon.
It added: "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."
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