Paul Reubens — the actor behind iconic children’s television character Pee-wee Herman — has died. He was 70.
“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,” a statement shared via Reubens’ official Pee-wee Herman Instagram account 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.”
In addition to a photo of Reubens in character as Herman, the Instagram slideshow contained a heartfelt apology from the actor for choosing to keep his cancer diagnosis close to the vest.
“Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the past six years,” the statement read. “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 post concluded with a request from Reubens for any “expressions of sympathy” to be made to Stand Up to Cancer or any dementia or Alzheimer’s organization in honor of his late parents.
Reubens created his childlike alter-ego while he was a member of the iconic Los Angeles improv troupe The Groundlings in the 1980s, performing the character on stage at The Roxy before bringing him to the big screen in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in 1985. Reubens-as-Herman continued to dominate the entertainment landscape with the children’s TV program Pee-wee’s Playhouse which garnered a whopping 22 Emmys in five seasons. Reubens never tired of playing the role, bringing Herman back in various other iterations over the years, including on Broadway in 2011. Herman returned to the big screen in 2016 with Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, which was coproduced by Judd Apatow.
Despite his illness, Reubens remained devoted to his career. The actor — who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1988 — had recently completed a first draft of his memoir, his reps revealed on Monday. He had several more TV projects in the works before passing away, as well as two Pee-wee Herman movie scripts.
Just two days before his death, Reubens’ blog was updated with a link to purchase Pee-wee’s Playhouse tiki mugs.
In addition to his role as Herman, the two-time Emmy winner was a prolific voice actor who worked on The Nightmare Before Christmas, Star Wars Rebels, Batman Returns and much more. Disney Parks fans will recognize him as the voice of the house DJ at Oga’s Cantina at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland as well as the voice of RX-24 on Star Tours. Other fan-favorite roles in Reubens’ decades-long career include the 1992 Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, Dunston Checks In, Matilda and TV shows including 30 Rock, Pushing Daisies, Gotham and more.