Paul Reubens, Actor Known to Fans as ‘Pee-Wee Herman,’ Dies at 70

Paul Reubens attends the TV Land Awards. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Paul Reubens, an actor and comedian who made fans laugh with his portrayal of the character Pee-wee Herman, died Sunday after privately battling cancer. He was 70.

A statement posted to Reubens’ social media accounts on Monday, July 31, announced his death.

“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,” read the statement on the actor’s Instagram page.

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The post went on to say he had succumbed to cancer.

“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 statement continued.

The post included a quote from Reubens to his fans, saying he had been sick for some time: “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.”

He was born Paul Rubenfeld in Peekskill, New York, in August 1952, and grew up in Sarasota, Florida.

After high school, he attended Boston University and was accepted to the California Institute of the Arts.

Reubens moved to California in the 1970s, and began performing at local comedy clubs. He landed guest appearances on The Gong Show and joined the Los Angeles–based improvisational comedy team The Groundlings.

In the 1980s, he launched “The Pee-wee Herman Show” stage production featuring a fictional character he had developed.

Pee-wee’s Playhouse (Credit: CBS)
Pee-wee’s Playhouse (Credit: CBS)

He teamed with filmmaker Tim Burton for the 1985 movie, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, about an eccentric man-child. Reubens wrote the script with Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol.

Reubens also starred in the film Big Top Pee-wee (1988) and the children’s television series Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which aired on CBS from 1986 to 1991.

But his kid-friendly screen image took a hit in 1991, after he pleaded no contest to indecent exposure at an adult movie theater in Sarasota, Florida.

Reubens had another brush with the law in 2002, when he was charged by Los Angeles police with misdemeanor possession of obscene material improperly depicting a child under the age of 18. He was sentenced to three years probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor obscenity charge.

In a 2004 interview with NBC News, Reubens admitted to having a collection of “vintage erotica,” including films and magazines with titles such as “Boy Nudist,” but he insisted the images were art.

“Magazines. photographs. films. Incredible, beautiful stuff that I stand behind,” he said.

Reubens would eventually make a comeback. He later had parts on the TV series Reno 911!, 30 Rock, Portlandia, The Blacklist, and Gotham and he starred in the 2016 Netflix film Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.