Sometimes you really don’t think about how much of an impact a person has had in your life until you see that name pop up on an obituary.
That happened for me when I saw that Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of Spongebob Squarepants, passed away from ALS complications at 57 today.
Spongebob hasn’t been at the forefront of my mind for a number of years now. If anything I’ve grown to be more resentful and dismissive of the Nickelodeon classic the longer it lives in prime time, because I’m one of those snobs that loves to go on about how the old episodes were great and the new stuff is trash.
Which is objectively true. But I digress.
Just because the modern run of the show isn’t fantastic doesn’t mean the blockbuster of a series didn’t become a classic for nothing.
Almost immediately after Spongebob aired in 1999 (almost 20 years ago — yikes), he became the face of Nickelodeon. Anyone who watched the network at any point in the early aughts would recognize the yellow sponge in everything.
The show has been nominated for and won over 100 awards in its runtime according to imdb, and I would say it’s hard to find a more recognizable voice talent than Tom Kenny in the field of animation.
That sponge is everywhere in our pop culture landscape. Hell they even referenced Squidward in Avengers Infinity War.
We have Stephen Hillenburg to thank for that entry, as well as others like Rocko’s Modern Life.
As usual Variety has a pretty nice article summarizing his overall impact and past far better than I could.
My contribution comes a little more easily from talking about how much Spongebob became an ever-present part of my life without my even realizing it.
Like I mentioned, the older episodes are absolute classics in my mind. Almost word-for-word I could recite the plots that I watched repeatedly on weekend mornings.
And of course, my personal favorite episode: Band Geeks.
There are honestly too many to count. Almost all of them, interestingly enough, seemed to involve a number of the most famous Spongebob moments that became memes as the internet grew.
So many memes stemmed out of Spongebob episodes, it honestly feels like one crops up whenever another dies. Those kind of moments have become jokes and references that my friends still pass around to this day.
Slight topic shift. At one point in my life I tried my hands at doing sprite animation. Even went to a summer camp to learn more about the subject with my old friend Mitchell Winn.
One of the first projects I tried was recreating the football halftime scene at the end of Band Geeks using video game sprites.
That scene was so iconic to me that I wanted to capture even a glimmer of its majesty in a medium I’d almost never done anything with before. The project never went very far, but I distinctly recall using the Spriter’s Resource to cast Mario from Superstar Saga as a drummer using a drum set from the Scribblenauts series.
That’s how much of an impact the show had on me.
Just thinking about Spongebob drudged up that old part of me, which also helped me remember the Smash Bros.-themed desktop wallpapers I created.
I’ll have to see if I can find those to show them off, but that’s a post for another day.
I also couldn’t help but think about the Nicktoons Unite game I played on the DS back in the day, namely because it was the Spongebob level I could never beat.
Funnily enough when I tried to look for that game in my collection, all I was able to find were these two Spongebob games that I don’t even remember owning!
The day that I’m writing this, Nov. 27, is Giving Tuesday.
Originally I was going to write something promoting the Gladeo donation campaign, but in honor of Stephen Hillenburg I think it would only be right to point out some ALS charities for everyone to donate to.
Unfortunately I don’t know who’s reputable and who isn’t, so I’m going to default to the ALS Association. Go support them in honor of that iconic character living in a pineapple under the sea.
With all that said and done, I can’t think of a better send off for Stephen than this tweet.
Yet another man with a legacy that will live decades beyond his far too early passing. Rest in peace.