Who Voices Spongebob? What Tom Kenny Said About Stephen Hillenburg Before He Died

The death of Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of Nickelodeon's hit series Spongebob Squarepants, has hit hard for many. Stars such as David Hasselhoff and Busy Phillips took the opportunity to remember his legacy Tuesday after he died from ALS. Before this, Spongebob voice actor Tom Kenny honored his good friend, Hillenburg.

Kenny, 56, is best known for lending his voice to Spongebob Squarepants. He's additionally been the voice behind the Ice King in Adventure Time, the narrator and the Mayor for The Powerpuff Girls, Rabbit in the Winnie the Pooh (2011) film and Dog in CatDog. He's also voice acted in live-action films, including Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Ant-Man. Through his work in animation, he's earned three Annie Awards. He won a Daytime Emmy Award in April for voicing Spongebob as well.

At the 45th annual Daytime Emmy Awards in April, Kenny spoke about Hillenburg's impact. At the time, Hillenburg was being honored by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) for his career-long efforts and influence in the fields of animation and broadcast.

"Sometime in 1997ish, Stephen Hillenburg showed me some drawings he had done for a show that he was thinking about pitching to Nickelodeon about a good-hearted sponge, his dumb sea star friend, a greedy crab boss, a cranky squid neighbor, a teeny tiny enemy and a Texas squirrel that's gone subaquatic," said Kenny. "I know, seen it before, right? I fell in love immediately and it seems like some other people did too."

Kenny continued, "Spongebob Squarepants, now, is seen in 208 countries, translated into 55 languages and is the most widely distributed property in Viacom Media Network history...Spongebob's vocal cords might be mine but Spongebob's playful spirit of gentle energy, his humor and the joy he takes in his vibrant, colorful, music-filled world come directly—directly—100 percent from my good buddy, Mr. Stephen Hillenburg."

The voice of #SpongeBob @RealTomKenny pays tribute to @SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg at the #DaytimeEmmys #CreativeArtsEmmys pic.twitter.com/OJ0QR774Ze

— Daytime Emmys (@DaytimeEmmys) April 28, 2018

Hillenberg was an animator, cartoonist and marine biologist. In addition to creating Spongebob Squarepants, he wrote and directed many of the iconic show's episodes as well. His first animation job was as a director on the former Nickelodeon series, Rocko's Modern Life. In March 2017, he revealed his Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to Variety. Hillenberg, who was married to chef Karen Umland, died at 57.

"We are sad to share the news of the passing of Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants," Nickelodeon confirmed Tuesday via Twitter. "Today, we are observing a moment of silence to honor his life and work."

In 2009, Hillenburg spoke about SpongeBob SquarePants with Boston.com in honor of the show's 10-year anniversary. He never anticipated the beloved Nickelodeon series lasting as long as it has.

"I never imagined working on the show to this date and this long. It never was possible to conceive that. . . . I really figured we might get a season and a cult following, and that might be it," he said. "By the third season, it felt like [we had] a solid fan base, and the show was kind of clicking on all levels."

'Spongebob' Star Tom Kenny Honored Stephen Hillenburg Before Death
'Spongebob Squarepants' voice actor Tom Kenny honored creator Stephen Hillenburg before his death at the 2018 Daytime Emmy Awards. Here, Hillenburg (L) and Kenny are pictured at the 2002 Summer TCA Awards Ceremony held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Los Angeles, California, on January 20, 2002. Kevin Winter/ImageDirect