He was 70.
“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 post on his verified social media reads. “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 left a statement with his team to share with the public after his death.
“Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years,” Reubens wrote. “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.”
Born in Peekskill, New York, Reubens grew up in Sarasota, Florida, and developed an affinity for comedy early on in his life that he attributed in part to Sarasota being the winter home of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Circus.
In sixth grade, while attending Southside Elementary, Reubens stepped onto a stage for the first time as Nick Burns in “A Thousand Clown”s at The Players Theatre. While at Brookside Junior High, he appeared at The Players in “The Riot Act”, “Camelot” and “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.”
He led his high school drama club and appeared in starring roles in productions of “The Comedy of Errors,” “My Fair Lady” and “Guys and Dolls.” He was also voted “Most Talented” during his senior year.
After high school graduation, Reubens enrolled in Boston University’s theatre department before moving to Los Angeles to attend the acting program at California Institute of the Arts, the new school founded by Walt Disney.
It was after college that Reubens created the iconic character Pee-wee Herman while a member of the famed Los Angeles improv group, The Groundlings.
“The Pee-wee Herman Show” premiered at The Groundlings Theatre in 1981 before moving to The Roxy on Sunset Strip, where it ran for an unprecedented five months.
The HBO broadcast of the show introduced the Pee-wee Herman character to a national audience.
The character was later brought to the big screen in the 1985 comedy, “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” which Reubens co-wrote.
Reubens went on to create, co-write and co-direct the series “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” on CBS, where the series earned 22 Emmy Awards during its run from 1986 to 1991. Reubens was nominated for 14 Emmy Awards during his career, winning twice.
In 2010, he produced, co-wrote and starred in an updated revival of “The Pee-wee Herman Show” in Los Angeles. The production later traveled to Broadway, opening to rave reviews at The Stephen Sondheim Theater.
Five years later, he teamed with director Judd Apatow for the Netflix film “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.”
His success as Pee-wee Herman also helped Reubens usher other actors into the spotlight on their road to fame. Some of his “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” costar included Laurence Fishburne, Natasha Lyonne, Jimmy Smits, Sandra Bernhard and S. Epatha Merkerson.
Away from the cameras, Reubens faced legal trouble over the years.
He was arrested for indecent exposure in 1991 at a theater showing X-rated films, for which he later entered a plea of no contest.
In 2002, Reubens was charged with one misdemeanor count of possessing material depicting children engaged in sexual conduct, a charge that was later dropped with the actor pleading guilty to a charge of obscenity instead.
“I probably have become more infamous from two misdemeanors than probably anyone I could think of,” Reubens told NBC in 2004.
Some of his more recent acting credits include roles on “Gotham,” “What We Do In The Shadows,” “The Blacklist,” “Portlandia,” “30 Rock,” “Pushing Daisies,” “Reno 911” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
Friend and colleagues paid tribute to Reubens on social media on Monday.
“My heart is broken into a billion pieces. Then I looked at the text you sent me last week: a meme of a person in giant hair getting a pie in the face and I burst out laughing,” director Adam Shankman wrote. “Laughing and crying. This my friend says everything about you and what you gave the world.”
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