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Paul Reubens, Pee-wee Herman actor, dead at 70 after private cancer battle

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Pee-wee Herman actor Paul Reubens dead at 70
WATCH: Actor Paul Reubens, best known for his portrayal as ’80s children's television character "Pee-wee Herman" has died years after he was diagnosed with cancer. He was 70 – Jul 31, 2023

Actor Paul Reubens, best known for his portrayal as ’80s television character Pee-wee Herman, has died years after he was diagnosed with cancer. He was 70.

His team confirmed the passing Monday, in a statement posted to Facebook.

“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,” the statement reads.

“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.”

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The post also included an undated quote attributed to Reubens, thanking fans for their support:

“Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years. 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,” the quote says.

Paul Reubens, shown as Pee-wee Herman, arrives for a panel during the first day of Comic Con Thursday, July 21, 2011, in San Diego.
Paul Reubens, shown as Pee-wee Herman, arrives for a panel during the first day of Comic Con Thursday, July 21, 2011, in San Diego. Gregory Bull / The Associated Press

Reubens was the creator and star of the 1986 to 1990 TV series Pee-wee’s Playhouse. His character, with his too-tight gray suit, white chunky loafers and red bow tie, would become instantly recognizable for generations of kids and adults.

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It was a role he would reprise over the years, including a 2010 live Broadway instalment of The Pee-wee Herman Show, as well as the 2016 Netflix movie Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.

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Herman created Pee-wee when he was part of the Los Angeles improv group The Groundlings in the late 1970s. The live Pee-wee Herman Show debuted at a Los Angeles theater in 1981 and was a success with both kids during matinees and adults at a midnight show.

From there, Reubens took Pee-wee to the big screen in 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. The film, in which Pee-wee’s cherished bike is stolen, was said to be loosely based on Vittorio De Sica’s Italian neo-realist classic, The Bicycle Thief. The film, directed by Tim Burton and co-written by Phil Hartman of Saturday Night Live, sent Pee-wee on a nationwide escapade. The movie was a success, grossing $40 million, and continued to spawn a cult following for its oddball whimsy.

Both silly and subversive and championing nonconformity, the Pee-wee universe was a trippy place, populated by things such as a talking armchair and a friendly pterodactyl.

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The host, who was fond of secret words and loved fruit salad so much he once married it, was prone to lines like, “I know you are, but what am I?” and “Why don’t you take a picture; it’ll last longer?” The act was a hit because it worked on multiple levels, even though Reubens insisted that wasn’t the plan.

“It’s for kids,” Reubens told The Associated Press in 2010. “People have tried to get me for years to go, ‘It wasn’t really for kids, right?’ Even the original show was for kids. I always censored myself to have it be kid-friendly.

“The whole thing has been just a gut feeling from the beginning,” Reubens told the AP. “That’s all it ever is and I think always ever be. Much as people want me to dissect it and explain it, I can’t. One, I don’t know, and two, I don’t want to know, and three, I feel like I’ll hex myself if I know.”

He also departed from his Pee-wee character with roles on shows like The Blacklist, Gotham and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

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with files from The Associated Press

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