Pee-Wee Herman Actor Paul Reubens Dead At 70

Pee-wee Herman Icon Paul Reubens Has Died At the Age of 70

Paul Reubens, the comedic actor best known for his character Pee-wee Herman, has died at age 70. Reubens' passing was confirmed by the Pee-wee Herman Official Page on Facebook, which posted the following information and euology: 

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. 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. 

There was also a message from Paul Reubens included in the Memoriam post, thanking his fans while apologizing for this sudden, surprising, exit: 

"Please accept my apology for not going public with what I've been facing the last six years," Reubens wrote. "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." -Paul Reubens

A note on the post also instructs fans how to honor Paul Reubens: "Paul asked that any expressions of sympathy be made in honor of his late parents, Judy and Milton Reubenfeld, to Stand Up to Cancer or organizations involved in Dementia and Alzaheimer's care, support and research."

Last night we said farewell to Paul Reubens, an iconic American actor, comedian, writer and producer whose beloved...

Posted by Pee-wee Herman on Monday, July 31, 2023

Paul Reubens was born "Paul Rebenfeld" in Peekskill, New York, in 1952. He grew up in a Jewish family, spending a lot of his time going between New York and Sarasota, Florida, where his parents Judy (a teacher) and Milton Rubenfeld (an auto salesman and combat pilot) owned and operated a lamp store. Paul was the oldest of three siblings, growing up with his younger brother Luke (a dog trainer) and younger sister Abby (an American Civil Liberties Union attorney in Tennessee). 

Sarasota introduced Paul Reubens to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, whose winter headquarters were located in that city. Between the circus and I Love Lucy, Paul Reubens gained a love of entertainment and performance, putting on his first plays with his siblings starting at age 5. He became president of the National Thespian Society at Sarasota High School and gained a lot of academic acclaim for his performance skills. He went to Boston University and, after numerous acting school rejections he ended up at the California Institute of the Arts, which moved him out to California. 

In the 1970s Reubens was working in comedy clubs and appearing on The Gong Show with Charlotte McGinnis, in an act called The Hilarious Betty and Eddie. That led Reubens to the famous Groundlings improv group, working with the likes of Phil Hartman, which led to appearances in films like The Blues Brothers. It was in The Groundlings that Reubens took a bit character from a 1970 play he'd done, and fully developed his Pee-wee Herman character (named after a Pee Wee harmonica Reubens owned as a child, and a boy surnamed "Herman" from his youth). 

Reubens launched "The Pee-wee Herman Show" in LA's Roxy Theater in the early 1980s, after infamously getting rejected from Saturday Night Live (who gave Reubens' slot on the cast to comedian Gilbert Gottfried that year). After selling out both late-night shows (for adults) and matinees (for kids), HBO featured The Pee-wee Herman Show on their uncensored stand-up series On Location. Reubens leaned into playing Pee-wee in public outings, appearing in movies like the Cheech & Chong films before getting his own film, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, in 1985. Big Adventure made $40.9 million on a $7 million budget and gained a big cult following for Pee-wee Herman, leading to CBS developing Pee-wee's Playhouse with Reubens as a live-action children's program. Pee-wee's Playhouse ran from 1986-1991 and became Reubens' biggest success and most legacy in the entertainment industry, winning 15 Emmy Awards, inspiring generations of children, and even helping launch the careers of actors like Laurence Fishburne. 

Reubens suffered an embarrassing 1991 controversy where he was arrested at an adult theater in Sarasota, Florida; the resulting backlash from business partners and sponsors, not to mention public ridicule and mockery, made Reubens largely retreat from the public eye. He popped up in movie roles (Batman Returns, Matilda) and did a recurring stint on Murphy Brown. He finally became a full-fledged public figure again in the late '90s/00s, after breakout roles in films like Mystery Men and Blow – the latter of which sparked a whole new era of roles for him as "Paul Reubens," the serious actor, rather than "Pee-wee Herman." 

Following another controversial case about his personal sexual memorabilia collection in the mid-2000s, Reubens went even harder with his comeback, appearing on hit shows like Reno 911!, Tina Fey's 30 Rock, FX's Dirt, and voicing numerous characters for Cartoon Network shows like Re-Animated or Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!

By the 2010s, Paul Reubens had come full circle, starting a new era of The Pee-wee Herman Show for the stage, which sold out over $3 million in advanced tickets and was filmed as an HBO special that aired in 2011. He resumed work on the unproduced Pee-wee works he'd had in mind – working with Judd Apatow to launch a new film, Pee-wee's Big Holiday on Netflix in 2016. 

It's now clear that Reubens found out about his cancer battle after Pee-wee's Big Holiday was released, and it likely derailed his subsequent plans for the character. Still, millions of fans around the world are both mourning and celebrating the legacy of laughter and learning that Paul Reubens (and Pee-wee Herman) left them with. 

Paul Reubens would've turned 71 on August 27th. We send his family and friends our condolences in their time of grieving.