Paul Reubens, who captivated audiences with his man-child character Pee-wee Herman, has died. He was 70.
Reubens died Sunday, according to an announcement on his Facebook page. “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,” reads the announcement, posted Monday. “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 includes this quote from Reubens: “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.”
Reubens was known for playing the quirky, innocent character on the Saturday morning show Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which ran from 1986 to 1990, and in several movies, including Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Big Top Pee-wee. He took the character to Broadway in The Pee-wee Herman Show in 2010-2011. He appeared in guest roles on many TV series and lent his voice to numerous animated characters.
His reputation was tarnished somewhat when he was arrested on an indecent exposure charge for masturbating in an adult theater in Florida in 1991. He entered a plea of no contest and had to pay a small fine and do community service.
Then in 2001, he was arrested in Los Angeles on charges of possessing child pornography. He said, however, that the images in his collection were not of children but of adults in “physique” poses such as those used in mid-century magazines that were popular with gay men. He agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor obscenity charge, pay a $100 fine, and register with the police for three years. Fans largely remained loyal, in any case.
There was often speculation that Reubens was gay, but he never addressed the matter publicly.