Paul Reubens, Known as Pee-wee Herman, Dies at 70

Paul Reubens, the actor best known for his iconic character Pee-wee Herman, has passed away at the age of 70. His representatives confirmed that Reubens had been privately battling cancer for several years. The actor, comedian, writer, and producer was celebrated for his character’s infectious positivity and whimsy, which brought joy to both children and adults alike.

Reubens, born Paul Rubenfeld in Peekskill, New York, in 1952, showed an early inclination towards the performing arts. Raised in Sarasota, Florida, he first took to the stage in sixth grade, performing in a school production at Southside Elementary. His passion for theater continued through high school, where he was president of the drama club and starred in several productions.

After a year at Boston University’s theatre department, Reubens moved to Los Angeles to attend the California Institute of the Arts, an acting program founded by Walt Disney. His career took off in the 1970s when he joined the comedy troupe the Groundlings in LA. It was here that he created the character of Pee-wee Herman in 1978, named after a childhood harmonica.

Despite an unsuccessful audition for “Saturday Night Live,” Reubens took Pee-wee Herman to the stage, first at the Groundlings Theatre and later at the Roxy Theatre in LA. The character, initially designed for adult audiences, quickly gained popularity, leading to a sold-out five-month run in Los Angeles. This success paved the way for Pee-wee Herman’s transition to a kid-friendly movie character.

Reubens’ collaboration with Tim Burton in the 1985 film “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” marked the character’s feature film debut. He continued to revisit the character over the years, including in the 1986 to 1990 TV series “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” which earned 15 Emmy awards and three nominations for Reubens. His contributions to the entertainment industry were recognized with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in 1988.

Beyond Pee-wee Herman, Reubens showcased his acting versatility in a variety of roles on shows like “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” “Gotham,” and “The Blacklist.” He was also considered for the role of Roger Rabbit in the early 1980s.

Despite facing legal troubles in the 1990s and early 2000s, Reubens managed to reinvent himself, landing roles in films like “Mystery Men” and “Blow.” At the time of his death, he had completed the first draft of his memoir and was working on two more Pee-wee movie scripts and several TV projects.

Reubens is survived by his sister, Abby, her wife, Helia, his brother Luke, and nieces Lily and Sarah. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to Stand Up to Cancer or other organizations supporting dementia and Alzheimer’s in honor of his late parents, Judy and Milton Rubenfeld.