Paul Reubens, the comedian/actor best known for his character Pee-wee Herman, has died. He was 70.
Reubens’ death was confirmed in a post across his social media channels. The post says, in part, “Paul bravely and privately fought cancer for years with his trademark tenacity and wit.”
Reubens posthumously shared a personal statement telling fans, “Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years.”
He continued, “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.”
The post concludes, “Paul asked 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.”
The Pee-wee Herman character was created by Reubens and Phil Hartman when they were members of the Los Angeles-based sketch comedy troupe The Groundlings. The character evolved over time from a nightclub act into a popular children’s character. In 1981, HBO aired The Pee-wee Herman Show, which was a stage show filmed at The Roxy in Los Angeles.
Of course, the Pee-wee Herman character really took off with the 1985 movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, which served as the directorial debut of Tim Burton. The film evolved into a cult classic filled with numerous one-liners.
The following year, the children’s show Pee-wee’s Playhouse premiered on CBS as part of the network’s Saturday morning lineup. The show famously featured Laurence Fishburne and S. Epatha Merkerson in recurring roles of Cowboy Curtis and Reba the Mail Lady. During its five-season run from 1986-1990, Pee-wee’s Playhouse won 15 Emmy Awards. During the run of the series, Big Top Pee-wee, the second film featuring the character, was released in 1988.
Reubens, however, started to shelve the iconic character shortly after his infamous 1991 arrest at an adult theater in Sarasota, Fla. It would be another 15 years before Reubens appeared as Herman publicly, which led to renewed interest in the character. This led to a new version of The Pee-wee Herman Show, which eventually had a run on Broadway. Following the stage show, a new Pee-wee film, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, premiered on Netflix in March 2016.
The Pee-wee character dominated Reubens’ career, but he has plenty of other acting credits to his name. Reubens notably appeared in 1992’s Batman Returns and the Fox series Gotham where he played Elijah Van Dahl, the father of Batman villain the Penguin. He also appeared in 1999’s Mystery Men, 2001’s Blow and in a number of TV shows including Murphy Brown, Dirt, Ally McBeal, 30 Rock, Pushing Daisies, The Blacklist and more.