Paul Reubens, best known to the world as cult favourite entertainer Pee-wee Herman, has died. He was 70.
Reubens was born in New York in 1952 and raised in Florida. He created Pee-wee (named for a brand of harmonica he had when he was a child) while with the Los Angeles comedy troupe The Groundlings in 1978, then took the character to the stage after failing to land a spot on Saturday Night Live in 1980. His performance was captured for an HBO special in 1981.
Early film appearances included the Cheech & Chong films Next Movie (1980) and Nice Dreams (1981) and made the first of his many bizarre appearances on Late Night With David Letterman — always in character and keeping his real identity a secret — in 1982.
He starred as the bow tie-wearing Pee-wee during a tour of the States, including a stop at Carnegie Hall in 1984, and then in Warner Bros’ Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in 1985, directed by Tim Burton, followed by the sequel, Randal Kleiser’s Big Top Pee-wee in 1988.
The actor really came into his own on CBS Saturday morning children’s program Pee-wee’s Playhouse, with 45 episodes running for five seasons from 1986-1991. Along with his TV work, his cinematic CV includes such films as the animated/live-action Smurfs movies, where he voiced Jokey Smurf. He also appeared in Mystery Men, the Eddie Murphy-starring Doctor Doolittle, 1996’s Matilda, Serial Mom, as the voice of Lock in The Nightmare Before Christmas, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, The Blues Brothers and Batman Returns.
Reubens’ image as a beloved childhood hero was tarnished when, in 1991, he was arrested for indecent exposure at an adult movie theater in Sarasota, Florida. At the center of a national sex scandal, Reubens backed away from Pee-wee and began doing press as himself.
He wouldn’t again reprise the iconic role until 2010, when he revived The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway and made several other appearances, on WWE Raw and in a couple of digital sketches for Funny Or Die. In 2016, Reubens co-wrote and starred in Netflix’s Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, a sequel to Big Top, which would serve as Reubens’ final film role before his death.
A statement was released via Instagram post-mortem explaining his decision to keep a cancer diagnosis private for six years, and you can read it below.