Beloved icon, actor, comedian, and children’s entertainer Paul Reubens, most famous for his Pee-wee Herman character, has sadly passed away at the age of 70 following a private battle with cancer.
“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,” a statement released on his official Facebook said. “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 himself also released a short statement apologizing for not being public with his cancer diagnosis.
“Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years,” he said. “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 originally created the Pee-wee Herman character in a Los Angeles stage play he put on in the '80s. In 1981, HBO recorded a performance and broadcast it. Four years later, Tim Burton directed him in the movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, which became a breakout success.
From 1986 to 1991, Reubens was the beloved host of the Saturday morning kids CBS show Pee-wee’s Playhouse. While the show was for kids, it had fans of all ages, and Pee-wee was one of the most widely liked entertainers in America.
Unfortunately, as a gender-nonconforming man, he was targeted several times by police, who in 1991 arrested him for “indecent exposure” at an adult movie theater where people would come to watch pornography and masturbate in the dark.
Later, in 2004, he was under investigation for possessing child pornography, but after police searched through his large collection of vintage erotica, films, and muscle magazines, most of which were homosexual in nature, they found no grounds to bring felony charges against him, and he pled guilty to a misdemeanor obscenity charge.
Reubens remained steadfast that he considered the erotica and kitsch items to be art, and that none of it depicted underage people in sex acts.
Reubens never came out as gay, but many queer fans related to his quirkiness and oddness and found strength in his message that being different is cool. He dated women during his lifetime.
He also appeared in movies like Mystery Men, Blow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the 2016 Netflix original film Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.