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Paul Reubens, Iconic Pee-wee Herman Actor, Dies at 70

By Jake Beardslee · July 31, 2023

In brief…

  • Paul Reubens, known for playing Pee-wee Herman, died at 70.
  • Reubens privately battled cancer for years before his passing.
  • His quirky Pee-wee Herman character was a pop culture icon on stage, TV and film.
Paul Reubens, best known for playing Pee-wee Herman, died at 70 after a private battle with cancer.  Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

Paul Reubens, the actor best known for his portrayal of quirky man-child Pee-wee Herman, died last night at the age of 70 after a private battle with cancer, according to a statement from his family.

Reubens brought the bowtie-wearing, bike-riding Pee-wee character to life starting in the 1970s with the Los Angeles improv group, The Groundlings. The impish character quickly became a pop-culture phenomenon, starring in stage shows, films, and the Saturday morning TV show, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”

Pee-wee Herman, the quirky man-child character created and portrayed by Paul Reubens, became a huge pop-culture phenomenon in the 1980s.  Alan Light/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-2.0

Reubens’ rise hit a wall in 1991 when he was arrested for indecent exposure at an adult movie theater in Florida. He pleaded no contest to the charges and had to cancel his hit Saturday morning show. After mounting a brief show business comeback, he largely retreated from public life after a 2002 arrest on charges of possessing inappropriate images of minors.

“Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years,” Reubens’ estate wrote in an Instagram post shortly after his death. “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.”

A statement Reubens’ family said: “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.”

The statement added: “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.”

Reubens was 70 years old. His death marks the end of an era for fans who grew up with the ever-optimistic Pee-wee.