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Stephen Hillenburg, creator of Nickelodeon’s long-running smash hit SpongeBob SquarePants, revealed on Monday that he has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“I wanted people to hear directly from me that I have been diagnosed with ALS,” Hillenburg said in a statement released on Monday afternoon, before adding that he has no plans to take a break from his responsibilities on the show. “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.”
No other details were provided, but the 55-year-old was right in mentioning the outpouring of love and support. Following the news, animation boards and social media were flooded with well-wishes and messages of encouragement, both from friends and fans of the show. SpongeBob remains one of the cable network’s flagship shows, and the billion-dollar franchise has inspired merchandise, media and two feature films, with another slated for 2019.
According to his bio, Hillenburg is married, to wife Karen, and the couple has one child.
According to the ALS Association, approximately 15 people per day are newly diagnosed with ALS, which is described as “a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord.” When the cells die, voluntary muscle control and movement goes too, while the mind remains alert and normal as the patient slowly becomes paralyzed. Life expectancy averages two to five years from the iniital diagnosis, though some patients live more than 10 years.
Should Hillenburg choose to lean on Hollywood, he will find a soft shoulder and a strong contingent of supporters. In recent years, everyone from Jeffrey Katzenberg, Renee Zellweger, Courteney Cox, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Garner have stepped out for BWR co-founder Nanci Ryder, who has been battling the disease since 2014. Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus has supported her pilates guru Mari Winsor, and former NFL star Steve Gleason has made the festival rounds with his Amazon Studios documentary Gleason, which traces his own journey with the mysterious and life-threatening disease.
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