Paul Reubens, creator of Pee-wee Herman, die at 70

Paul Reubens, the actor best known for playing the irrepressible, gleefully innocent Pee-wee Herman, passed away on Sunday night after a quiet battle with cancer at age of 70.

A statement posted on Facebook stating, “Last night we said farewell to Paul Reubens, an iconic American actor, comedian, writer and producer whose beloved character Pee-wee Herman delighted generations of children and adults with his positivity, whimsy and belief in the importance of kindness,”

The actor’s personal statement explaining why he had kept his medical condition a secret was included in the announcement of his death. He wrote, “Please accept my apology for not going public with what I have been facing the last six years.  I have always felt a huge amount of love and respect from my friends, fans and supporters. I have loved you all so much and enjoyed making art for you.”

Reubens started his career in the 1970s after becoming an improvised comedian and stage performer for the Los Angeles live comedy group The Groundlings. He began “The Pee-wee Herman Show,” a stage production based on a fictional character he had been creating for years, in 1980. Reubens’ show ran for five months with no empty seats as Pee-wee developed a cult following, and he was given an HBO special. In his interviews and outings in public, Reubens remained devoted to the role.

Joe Manganiello, who co-starred with Reubens in the 2016 film “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” wrote a touching tribute to his friend. 

“Today the world lost one of the greatest comedic geniuses of all time. Paul was subversive, brilliant, witty, and had the biggest heart on the planet… anyone on his birthday mailing list will know what I mean,”.

He further continued, “He was an artist and a weirdo who fought for other artists and weirdos and the world was a much better place because it had him in it. He was one of the most recognizable faces in the world, an icon, yet he was still somehow this lovable underdog. I am just so glad that I got to be a part of his life and ultimately his comeback.”

Reubens collaborated with Tim Burton on “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” the character’s first feature film, which was both critically and financially successful in 1985. Three years later, Reubens made another appearance in the Randal Kleiser-directed sequel “Big Top Pee-wee.” From 1986 to 1990, the persona appeared on television as part of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” a weekend morning program on CBS.

Reubens also appeared in several of other projects throughout his career, like Ted Demme’s biographical crime drama “Blow.” And Kinka Usher’s superhero comedy “Mystery Men”. He also appeared in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman Returns and Matilda. His television credits include “30 Rock,” “The Blacklist,” “Pushing Daisies,” “Hercules,” “Rugrats,” “Reno 911!” and “What We Do in the Shadows.”

Reubens was charged in 2002 with misdemeanor possession of obscene material improperly depicting a child under the age of 18 in sexual activity after turning himself in to the Hollywood division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Reubens, a self-described erotica collector, disagreed with how pornography was categorized by the city. In 2004, his child pornography charges were dismissed in exchange for his guilty plea to a lesser misdemeanor obscenity charge.           

In 2005, Herman stated in an interview, “One thing I want to make very, very clear, I don’t want anyone for one second to think that I am titillated by images of children. It’s not me. You can say lots of things about me. And you might. The public may think I’m weird. They may think I’m crazy or anything that anyone wants to think about me. That’s all fine. As long as one of the things you’re not thinking about me is that I’m a pedophile. Because that’s not true.”

Reubens made guest appearances on TV shows like Mosaic, What We Do in the Shadows, and The Conners recently. With Uncut Gems directors Josh and Benny Safdie, he was creating a darker Pee-wee film. He said in the early 2020s, “I’ve called it the Valley of the Dolls Pee-wee movie.” The focus is on fame. Additionally, rumors circulated about a potential HBO documentary on Reubens that would be made by the creative team.

Reubens’ estate requested on social media that “any expressions of sympathy be made in honor of his late parents, Judy and Milton Rubenfeld, to Stand Up to Cancer or organizations involved in dementia and Alzheimer’s care, support, and research”.