Remembering Paul Reubens: A Tribute to the Beloved Pee-wee Herman

Paul Reubens, who became famous in the 1980s as the TV star Pee-wee Herman for kids, died Monday, years after he was diagnosed with cancer. He turned 70.

Paul Reubens
CELEBRITY WHEEL OF FORTUNE – Paul Reubens, Nicole Byer, and Joel McHale Celebrity Wheel of Fortune takes a new spin on the iconic game show Wheel of Fortune with the primetime debut of Americas Game® on Americas network, THURSDAY, FEB. 11 (8:00-9:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (Christopher Willard via Getty Images)
PAUL REUBENS

 

“Last night, we said goodbye 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,” said a post on his Facebook.

“Paul fought cancer for years in secret and with courage, using his trademark tenacity and wit.

He had a lot of ability and used it often. He will always be remembered as a treasured friend and a man of great character and generosity of spirit.

Paul Reubens and John Paragon starred in the children’s TV show “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” on CBS in 1986.

No one knew before now that Reubens had been diagnosed with cancer.

In a personal statement that was part of the news of his death, the actor talked about why he had kept his medical situation a secret.

“Please forgive me for not telling you what I’ve been going through for the past six years,” he wrote.

“My friends, fans, and followers have always shown me a lot of love and respect. I’ve loved you all so much and it’s been fun to make art for you.”

Paul Reubens
CELEBRITY WHEEL OF FORTUNE – Paul Reubens, Nicole Byer, and Joel McHale Celebrity Wheel of Fortune takes a new spin on the iconic game show Wheel of Fortune with the primetime debut of Americas Game® on Americas network, THURSDAY, FEB. 11 (8:00-9:00 p.m. EST), on ABC. (Christopher Willard via Getty Images)
VANNA WHITE, PAT SAJAK, PAUL REUBENS

 

Reubens shot to fame when he made Pee-wee Herman, a sarcastic but good-natured man-child whose red bowtie and sneering catchphrases like “I know you are, but what am I?” were all over the place in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Pee-wee was the main character in a Los Angeles stage play that Reubens put on. The play was popular enough that HBO recorded and showed a performance of it in 1981.

That led to Reubens’ big break, the 1985 movie “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” which was directed by Tim Burton in his first big-screen role.

The movie was a modest hit at the box office, but it became a cult favorite because it was about Pee-wee’s strange and funny trip to find his lost bike.

The popularity of “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” led to Reubens getting a Saturday morning show on CBS called “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” The live-action show, which ran from 1986 to 1991, was a hit with both kids and adults.

In the 1980s, “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” starred Paul Reubens as Pee Wee Herman.
In the 1980s, “Pee Wee’s Playhouse” starred Paul Reubens as Pee Wee Herman.

Thanks to the Everett Collection
But Reubens’ rise to fame ended in 1991 when he pleaded no contest to public exposure at a Sarasota, Florida adult movie theater.

Then, in 2004, Reubens was given three years of probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor obscenity charge related to photos of children engaging in sexual activity that were taken from him.

Reubens’ brushes with the law hurt his business, but they didn’t stop it.

After he was caught indecently exposing himself, he returned to the big screen with an appearance as the Penguin’s father in Tim Burton’s 1992 hit sequel “Batman Returns.”

In the same year, he played an angry bloodsucker in the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” movie, which was a big change from his Pee-wee character.

In 2001, Reubens played a drug-dealing hairdresser in the movie “Blow,” which also starred Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp. He got good reviews for this role.

He has been on TV shows like “30 Rock,” “The Blacklist,” and “Gotham.”

The Groundlings improv and sketch comedy theater, where Reubens got his start as a performer and came up with his famous alter ego, said in a statement on Monday that it was very sad to hear about his death.

“As a famous member of The Groundlings in the 1970s and 1980s, Paul made his famous character Peewee Herman here, which became a cultural phenomenon that lasted for decades,” the theater said.

“Paul’s services to comedy and entertainment will be remembered for a long time, and everyone in the Groundlings will miss him a lot. “Paul, we love you.”

Jimmy Kimmel, who is a late night comic, said in a statement, “Paul Reubens was like no one else. He was a brilliant and unique comedian who made kids and their parents laugh at the same time.”

“He never forgot a birthday and made sure everyone he met knew how much he loved being silly. He will be missed by my family and me.”

Conan O’Brien, a comedian and podcaster, talked about “the magic, generosity, artistry, and devout silliness of Paul Reubens.”

“Everyone I know who has a birthday got a bunch of meaningless memes from Paul, and I mean EVERYONE,” O’Brien said in a statement.

“His strange sense of humor and constant kindness were a gift to all of us. “Holy crap, this hurts!”

Natasha Lyonne, who is known for her roles in “Orange Is the New Black” and “Poker Face,” said that Paul Reubens gave her her first big break by giving her a recurring part on “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” when she was a child actor.

“Love you so much, Paul,” Lyonne said on social media. “One and only. Thank you for giving me a job and for being my friend for life. Also, thank you for showing us what a true original is all these years.

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