Paul Reubens, Actor Who Played Pee-wee Herman, Dies at 70

Paul Reubens, the actor who played Pee-wee Herman — seen here wearing his signature grey suit and red bowtie in a 1980 portrait — passed away at the age of 70 after a six-year battle with cancer. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Paul Reubens, the actor who played Pee-wee Herman, a nerdy character who wore a grey suit and red bowtie while delighting children and adults alike with his distinctive “heh heh heh” laugh, has died, a post on his Instagram account said on Monday.

Reubens, 70, died overnight after a years-long battle with cancer, the post said.

“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 said.

In a message to his fans that he wrote before he died, Reubens said that he apologized for not going public with his six-year battle with cancer.

“I have always felt a huge amount of love and respect from my friends, fans and supporters,” he wrote. “I have love you all so much and enjoyed making art for you.”

His career derailed in 1991 after Reubens was arrested on charges of indecent exposure at an adult movie theatre. He pleaded no contest and served 75 hours of community service.

In 2004, Reubens pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of possessing obscene material in Los Angeles. He was sentenced to three years of probation. As part of an agreement, prosecutors agreed to drop a second charge of possessing child pornography. The actor maintained that the pictures at the centre of the case were part of his art collection.

Ruebens was born Paul Rubensfeld in 1952 in Peekskill, New York. He began his career as an improvisational comedian and stage actor in the 1970s when he joined the Los Angeles troupe The Groundlings, according to, a database of movies and celebrities.

In 1982, Ruebens appeared in a popular stage show in Los Angeles known as “The Pee-wee Herman Show” as the lead character, which he developed. In 1986, the Saturday morning television show “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” debuted, launching Rueben’s career that also included two feature films as Pee-wee Herman.

Reubens‘ remarkable body language, facial expressions and line deliveries provided adoring fans with tongue-in-cheek moral lessons and off-the-wall satire.

The show’s main setting was Pee-wee’s so-called playhouse, his place of residence, which was populated with puppeteers attired as objects that spoke and had personalities, including his adored armchair, Chairy, and the perky sunflowers on the windowsill along with other loony characters.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)


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