Paul Reubens, who found fame as the quirky man-child character Pee-wee Herman, has died, his publicist announced.
He was 70.
“Last night we said goodbye 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 battled 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 have faced for the past six years,” Reubens wrote. “I have always felt a tremendous amount of love and respect from my friends, fans and fans. I have loved you all so much and enjoyed making art for you.”
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Born in Peekskill, New York, Reubens grew up in Sarasota, Florida, and developed an affinity for comedy early in life, which 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 on stage for the first time as Nick Burns in “A Thousand Clowns” 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 lead roles in productions of “The Comedy of Errors,” “My Fair Lady” and “Guys and Dolls.” He was also named “Most Talented” during his senior year.
After high school, Reubens enrolled in Boston University’s theater department before moving to Los Angeles to attend acting classes at the 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 famous Los Angeles improv troupe, The Groundlings.
Paul Reubens as Pee-wee Herman in 2009.
“The Pee-wee Herman Show” premiered at The Groundlings Theater in 1981 before moving to The Roxy on the 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 won 22 Emmy Awards during its run from 1986 to 1991. Reubens was nominated for 14 Emmy Awards during his career, win 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 and opened to rave reviews at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.
Five years later, he teamed up with director Judd Apatow for the Netflix movie “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.”
His success as Pee-wee Herman also helped Reubens usher other actors into the spotlight on their path to fame. Some of his “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” players included Laurence Fishburne, Natasha Lyonne, Jimmy Smits, Sandra Bernhard and S. Epatha Merkerson.
Away from the cameras, Reubens faced legal problems over the years.
He was arrested for indecent exposure in 1991 at a theater showing X-rated films, which he later participated in an objection 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 when the actor instead pleaded guilty to an obscenity charge.
“I’ve probably gotten more notoriety for two misdemeanors than anyone I could think of,” Reubens told NBC in 2004.
Some of his recent acting credits include roles in “Gotham”, “What We Do In The Shadows”, “The Blacklist”, “Portlandia”, “30 Rock”, “Pushing Daisies”, “Reno 911” and “Everybody Loves” Raymond .”
Isabella Vosmikova/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images
Paul Reubens on the set of “Pushing Daisies”.
“My heart is broken into a billion pieces. Then I looked at the text you sent me last week: a meme of a person with huge 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 to the world.”