The secret word today: sadness. In an unforeseen announcement, reps for Paul Reubens, the beloved star who created the character of Pee-wee Herman confirmed that he had died at the age of 70 on July 30, 2023. The cause of death has yet to be confirmed, but reps for the star confirmed that he had been battling cancer for many years prior to his passing.
“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,” reps for the star wrote on this Facebook page. “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 post also shared a message from Paul, presumably written before his passing, letting his loved ones know how much he cared for them. “Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years,” the message from Paul read. “I have always felt a huge amount of love and respect for my friends fans and supporters. I have loved you all so much and enjoyed making art for you.”
Paul Reubens’ legacy primarily revolves around his creation and portrayal of Pee-wee Herman in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1986, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” premiered on television and thus, Paul’s childlike persona was cemented forever in the pop culture zeitgeist. It was such a powerhouse that actors like Laurence Fishburne, Sandra Bernhard, and Natasha Lyonne all made appearances. The show ran for 4 years and had 2 spinoff movies, one directed by Tim Burton.
His other roles included playing Penguin’s Father in Batman Returns and guest spots on shows like Ally McBeal, 30 Rock, and Portlandia. He also did quite a bit of voice acting, lending his talents to everything from Phineas and Ferb to American Dad and even some video games in the Star Wars and Call of Duty universes.
His life was not without scandal, however. He was famously arrested in 1991 for indecent exposure at an adult movie theater, and then again, a decade later, after being charged with possession of child pornography. Eventually, the child pornography charge was dropped, with Paul pleading guilty to a charge of obscenity instead. In 2004, he sat down for an interview with NBC News, pleading his case with the public to know his truth.
“One thing I want to make very, very clear, I don’t want anyone for one second to think that I am titillated by images of children. It’s not me. You can say lots of things about me. And you might. The public may think I’m weird. They may think I’m crazy or anything that anyone wants to think about me. That’s all fine. As long as one of the things you’re not thinking about me is that I’m a pedophile. Because that’s not true.”
And with that, his legacy remained intact, with the years following allowing Paul to introduce Pee-Wee Herman to an entirely new generation. In 2016, he brought his iconic character to Netflix for Pee-wee’s Big Holiday along side stars like Joe Manganiello.
In the announcement post on Instagram as well as his other social media pages, Paul’s reps asked for donations to be made to organization like Stand Up To Cancer or others that support research for dementia and Alzheimer’s care to honor his late parents, Judy and Milton Rubenfeld,