Paul Reubens, the comedian who created the man-child character Pee-wee Herman, passed away from cancer on July 30th. He was 70 years old and left this world a little less funny, but fans and those who knew him remember his gift of laughter.
The news dropped the day after on Paul’s official Instagram, and a public apology from the comedian regarding his cancer battle.
“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 caption reads. “Paul bravely and privately fought cancer for [six] 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.”
Born Paul Reubenfeld in Peekskill, New York, he developed a love for entertainment and comedy when he frequented the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Sarasota, Florida, where he spent part of his childhood. From being submerged by the acts, inspiration for Pee-wee Herman was rooted within, and he created the character for the comedy stage when he was a member of the Groundlings troupe. Due to Pee-wee’s popularity, Paul gave him even more life by introducing him to film and television mediums.
Pee-wee Herman became a cult icon in the 1980s
Pee-wee Herman got his big screen break in 1985 when he starred in his first feature film, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. The comedy was co-written by Paul’s friend, the late Phil Hartman, directed by Tim Burton, and was a box-office success.
The film led to the Emmy-winning Saturday morning series, Pee-wee’s Playhouse in 1986, and another film, Big Top Pee-wee, premiered in 1988. While the film didn’t find as much success as its predecessor, it still achieved a spot in the fandom.
And like many iconic characters, a toy line was introduced featuring the man-child, books, lunch boxes, and other merchandise.
After a public scandal in Florida in 1991, CBS took off Playhouse reruns, forcing the much-loved character into exile. The decision made by CBS created an uproar among Paul’s supporters and demanded that studios put the show back on the air. Many fans picketed, but CBS held their ground.
For the scandal’s reparations, Paul was assigned 75 hours of community service and spent part of the hours making anti-drug public service announcements in his Pee-wee persona.
Pee-wee made his comeback in 2009, reintroduced in the play, Playhouse, and his third film in 2016 with the Netflix production, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, which created a new generation of fans, old and new alike.
Paul Reuben’s other acting ventures
Aside from Pee-wee, Paul branched out to other projects, including doing voiceover work for another Tim Burton hit, The Nightmare Before Christmas, in 1993 and a role in Batman Returns as the Penguin’s father.
Outside of Hollywood, the Florida native cared for his father, a World War II hero, in the last few years of his life. The elder Milton Reubens passed away from cancer in 2004.
While Paul was immensely talented, he wanted to be remembered for the laughter he instilled in millions and for being a part of their childhood. He kept his cancer diagnosis secret but remained humble to his fans.
“I have always felt a huge amount of love and respect from my friends, fans, and supporters,” he said in his last statement. “I have loved you all so much and enjoyed making art for you.”