Paul Reubens, who captivated LGBTQ+ audiences and others with his man-child character Pee-wee Herman, has died. He was 70.
Reubens died Sunday, according to an announcement on his Facebook page. “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,” reads the announcement, posted Monday. “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.”
The post includes this quote from Reubens: “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 known for playing the quirky, innocent character on the Saturday morning show Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which ran from 1986 to 1990, and in several movies, including Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Big Top Pee-wee. He took the character to Broadway in The Pee-wee Herman Show in 2010-2011. He appeared in guest roles on many TV series and lent his voice to numerous animated characters.
His reputation was tarnished somewhat when he was arrested on an indecent exposure charge for masturbating in an adult theater in Florida in 1991. He entered a plea of no contest and had to pay a small fine and do community service. Then in 2001, he was arrested in Los Angeles on charges of possessing child pornography. He said, however, that the images in his collection were not of children but of adults in “physique” poses such as those used in mid-century magazines that were popular with gay men. He agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor obscenity charge, pay a $100 fine, and register with the police for three years. Fans largely remained loyal, in any case.
There was often speculation that Reubens was gay, but he never addressed the matter publicly.
Reubens was born in Peekskill, N.Y., and grew up in Sarasota, Fla. He began his career in comedy with the Groundlings troupe in Los Angeles, then created a stage show in L.A. as the Pee-wee Herman character. Titled The Pee-wee Herman Show, it ran for five months and was taped for an HBO special that aired in 1981, bringing Reubens national fame. He became a popular guest on LateNight With David Letterman and appeared at comedy clubs around the country. In 1985, Pee-wee's Big Adventure was released and added to his fan following.
Outside of the Herman character, Reubens played guest roles on many TV series, including Murphy Brown, The Blacklist, and What We Do in the Shadows.
When he revived his stage show in Los Angeles prior to the Broadway run, he spoke to The Advocatein character as Pee-wee. The interviewer noted that he once married a bowl of fruit salad on Pee-wee's Playhouse, and then asked if Herman supported marriage equality, not yet the law of the land at that time (2010), and Herman said he did.
He also commented on the response to the show. "I mean, it's been incredible that we've sold 10,000 tickets like, boom, in one day," he said. "You know, it's been very exciting. We've broken Ticketmaster records for the rate we're selling tickets at. It's incredible; it's totally exciting. I mean, you don't know about this kind of stuff. You could say, 'I'm coming back,' and people go, 'Oh, ha ha, have you met my back?' So you don't know, you know?"