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Paul Rubens, the actor prominent for his role as the joyful, childlike, and uncontainable Pee-wee Herman, has died at 70 after a private bout of cancer on Sunday Night.
A posthumous post on Reubens’ Instagram reads, “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 character he played wore a bright red bowtie gray suit with a flat top haircut, delivering his now-famous catchphrases such as, “I know you are, but what am I?” in his distinctive high-pitched, squeaky voice.
The post was uploaded by Reuben’s estate, who wrote in the caption, “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. 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.”
The actor began his career in the 1970s by joining the Los Angeles live comedy troupe called the Groundlings as an improv comedian and stage performer. He launched The Pee-wee Herman Show in 1980, centered on a fictional character he had been working on for years. Since then, there has been no looking back for Reubens. Until his much-beloved childhood hero image was tarnished in 1991 on being arrested for indecent exposure at an adult movie theatre in Sarasota, Florida.
It was a national sex scandal, and Reubens was forced to back away from Pee-wee. He, however, did find support after the incident and received a standing ovation at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards. Addressing the audience, he said, “Heard any good jokes lately?”
His career had been more than Pee-wee, and he went on to star in films such as Mystery Men, Blow, Batman Returns, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Matilda. He also featured on television with 30 Rock, The Blacklist, Pushing Daisies, Hercules, Rugrats, Reno 911, and What We Do in the Shadows.
Before passing away, Reubens was working on two Pee-wee Herman projects- one of them was a black comedy named The Pee-wee Herman Story and another family adventure feature called Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Movie.
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