Terrible news from the world of pop culture: Paul Reubens, best known and beloved as the character Pee-wee Herman from movies and shows, has died. The news was announced on the official Pee-wee Herman Facebook page, where a note read:
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. Paul bravely and privately fought cancer for years with his trademark tenacity and wit. A gifted and prolific talent, he will forever live in the comedy pantheon and in our hearts as a treasured friend and man of remarkable character and generosity of spirit.
An attached image of Reubens included a quote from the actor that read “Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve 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 was only 70 years old when he passed away.
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Born in 1952, Reubens got his start in comedy in the 1970s. He appeared several times on The Gong Show, and then joined the famed L.A. improv comedy troupe the Groundlings. But it was the character of Pee-wee Herman that made Reubens famous. In the early 1980s, he began developing Pee-wee along with several Groundlings colleagues (including future Saturday Night Live star Phil Hartman). He debuted in a live stage show called The Pee-wee Herman Show, which quickly became a cult hit in the area. Pee-wee then got an HBO special and his first movie, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, in 1985.
Directed by a young Tim Burton, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure became a surprise smash, more than quadrupling its budget at the box office, and become a favorite on home video. Among many iconic moments, Reubens dancing to the song “Tequila” became one of the most memorable and imitated scenes of any 1980s movie.
A sequel followed in 1988, Big Top Pee-wee, but besides the original movie, Reubens and Pee-wee were probably most famous for the TV series Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which became a fixture of Saturday morning television all through the 1980s. Surreal and hilarious, the show saw Reubens hanging out in his Playhouse with an assortment of colorful characters; the show ran for 45 episodes from 1986 to 1990.
After a lengthy hiatus, Pee-wee returned in the 2010s, first on Broadway in a popular play, The Pee-wee Herman Show, and then in a new movie for Netflix titled Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. This turned out to be Reubens’ final film role.
In his Facebook statement, Reubens noted he has been battling cancer privately for six years. That coincides pretty closely with the release of Pee-wee’s Holiday, and does explain why Reubens never followed it with more Pee-wee shows or films, despite enormous interest from fans. It’s shocking news to hear he’s gone now, and at such a young age.