Iconic comedic actor Paul Reubens, known for his endearing character Pee-wee Herman, has passed away at the age of 70. Born Paul Rebenfeld in Peekskill, New York, in 1952, he grew up in a loving Jewish family, shuttling between New York and Sarasota, Florida, where his parents, Judy and Milton Rubenfeld, owned a lamp store. As the oldest of three siblings, he shared his childhood with his brother Luke, a dog trainer, and his sister Abby, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee.
Reubens’ fascination with entertainment and performance began in Sarasota, where he was introduced to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the timeless show, “I Love Lucy.” This early exposure ignited a love for theater, and by the age of five, Paul was already staging plays with his siblings. In high school, he became president of the National Thespian Society at Sarasota High School, garnering academic acclaim for his exceptional performance skills.
Following his dreams of becoming an actor, Reubens attended Boston University and eventually found his way to the California Institute of the Arts. In the 1970s, he began working in comedy clubs and appeared on “The Gong Show” with Charlotte McGinnis in their act, “The Hilarious Betty and Eddie.” This led him to join the famous Groundlings improv group, where he developed his unforgettable Pee-wee Herman character.
Reubens’ career took off in the early 1980s when he launched “The Pee-wee Herman Show” at LA’s Roxy Theater. After selling out both late-night and matinee shows, HBO featured the uncensored stand-up series “On Location,” which further elevated his popularity. Pee-wee’s big break came with the film “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” in 1985, followed by the successful CBS live-action children’s program “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” from 1986 to 1991. The show won 15 Emmy Awards and left an indelible mark on generations of children.
However, Reubens faced controversy in 1991 when he was arrested at an adult theater in Sarasota, Florida. This incident caused a public backlash, ridicule, and a temporary retreat from the spotlight. Despite these challenges, Reubens made a successful comeback in the late ’90s and 2000s with notable roles in films like “Mystery Men” and “Blow,” which showcased his versatility beyond Pee-wee Herman. Personally, I will never forget his hilarious death scene in the movie version of “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.”
Reubens’ association with Pee-wee Herman continued through the 2010s, with a new era of “The Pee-wee Herman Show” for the stage, an HBO special, and the Netflix film “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.” Unfortunately, it was after the release of the Netflix film that Reubens discovered his cancer battle, impacting his future plans for the beloved character.
As we mourn and celebrate the legacy of laughter and learning left by Paul Reubens and Pee-wee Herman, we remember that he would have turned 71 on August 27th. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends during this difficult time. The world has lost a true comedy legend, but his influence and impact will continue to inspire and entertain millions of fans around the globe.