LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Actor/comedian Paul Reubens, best known for his portrayal of alter-ego Pee-wee Herman, has died at age 70 after a battle with cancer, a diagnosis he had kept private, his estate announced today.
“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,” according to a statement posted on the official Pee-wee Herman Instagram page. “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.”
Details about the type of cancer Reubens battled were not released, nor was it clear where he died.
The Instagram post included a statement from Reubens himself, apologizing to his fans for keeping his cancer diagnosis secret.
“Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years,” he said. “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.”
According to the post, Reubens “asked that any expressions of sympathy be made in honor of his late parents, Judy and Milton Rubenfeld, to Stand Up to Cancer or organizations involved in dementia and Alzheimer’s care, support and research.”
Reubens began his show business career with the Groundlings comedy troupe in Los Angeles. He originally developed the character of Pee-wee Herman, a boyish man with a high-pitched voice and trademark gray suit, for the stage. The success of the character led to an HBO special and successful feature film debut in “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” directed by Tim Burton and featuring Pee-wee on a quest to recover his stolen beloved bicycle.
That led to the CBS Saturday-morning cartoon show “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” which proved almost as popular among adults as it was with children. Reubens also revived the character for the movie sequel “Big Top Pee-wee.”
His career took a hit in 1991 when he was arrested for indecent exposure in an adult theater in Florida. Reubens dropped out of the public eye for years, although he eventually returned to acting — but as Reubens, not Pee-wee. He eventually brought the character back in a Broadway stage show and later a Netflix film.