Actor Paul Reubens, who came to fame in the 1980s as children’s TV star Pee-wee Herman, has died years after a cancer diagnosis, his team said Monday.
It had not been previously disclosed that Reubens was diagnosed with cancer. The announcement of his death included a personal statement from the actor, explaining why he had kept his medical condition under wraps. Reubens rocketed to fame for creating the sarcastic but good-natured man-child Pee-wee Herman, a character whose red bowtie and sneering catch phrases — “I know you are, but what am I?” — were ubiquitous in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.
Pee-wee was the star of a Los Angeles stage play produced by Reubens that gained enough of a following that HBO recorded and broadcast a performance in 1981. That eventually led to Reubens’ big break, the 1985 movie “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” helmed by first-time feature film director Tim Burton. The movie followed Pee-wee’s surreal and slapstick journey to find his missing bicycle and, while a modest box office hit, became a cult favourite. The success of “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” led to Reubens landing a Saturday morning CBS show, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” The live action show was a hit with kids and adults alike and ran from 1986 to 1991.
But Reubens’ rise to fame was halted in 1991 after he pleaded no contest to indecent exposure at an adult movie theater in Sarasota, Florida. Then in 2004, Reubens was sentenced to three years probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor obscenity charge involving photographs of minors engaged in sexual conduct that were seized from him.
He returned to the big screen following the indecent exposure incident with a cameo as the Penguin’s father in Burton’s 1992 blockbuster sequel, “Batman Returns.” That same year, he fully shed his Pee-wee persona by playing a snarling blood-sucker in the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” film. Reubens won critical acclaim in 2001 for playing a drug-dealing hairdresser in the movie “Blow,” starring alongside Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp.
His TV credits included appearances on “30 Rock,” “The Blacklist” and “Gotham.”