Paul Reubens, the comedian actor whose bow-tied, childlike alter-ego Pee-wee Herman grew to become an unlikely if virtually uncategorizable film and tv sensation within the Eighties, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 70.
His dying, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Heart, was confirmed on Monday by his longtime consultant, Kelly Bush Novak, who stated he had “privately fought most cancers for years together with his trademark tenacity and wit.”
“Please settle for my apology for not going public with what I’ve been dealing with the final six years,” Mr. Reubens stated in a press release launched with the announcement of his dying. “I’ve at all times felt an enormous quantity of affection and respect from my mates, followers and supporters. I’ve cherished you all a lot and loved making artwork for you.”
Mr. Reubens had scores of performing credit in a profession that started within the Sixties, together with roles on “Murphy Brown,” “The Blacklist” and lots of different tv collection and in films like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1992), “Batman Returns” (1992) and “Blow” (2001).
However Pee-wee, a personality he created within the late Seventies as a 10-minute bit when he was a member of the Los Angeles comedy troupe the Groundlings, overshadowed all else, morphing right into a weird and savvy cultural phenomenon, a personality aimed (not less than in its TV incarnation) at youngsters however tapping into grownup sensibilities and ambiguities.
After being upset after auditioning unsuccessfully for the “Saturday Evening Dwell” solid in 1980, Mr. Reubens set about creating “The Pee-wee Herman Present,” which was billed as a “reside onstage TV pilot.” It had its premiere in early 1981 on the Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles. A nationwide tour adopted, and HBO broadcast a model of it as a comedy particular in 1981.
Pee-wee began turning up on late-night discuss exhibits, particularly “Late Night With David Letterman,” the place the juxtaposition of the idiosyncratic Pee-wee and the laid-back, considerably befuddled Mr. Letterman was comedy gold. “Pee-wee’s Large Journey,” a characteristic movie directed by Tim Burton, was successful in 1985.
Then, in 1986, got here “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” a children-friendly model of the world based on Pee-wee that may air on CBS for 5 years and carve out a permanent place within the reminiscences of Eighties youngsters and, typically, their dad and mom.
“Pee-wee’s Playhouse” stands as one of many oddest, most audacious, most unclassifiable exhibits in tv historical past. The androgynous Pee-wee and an enormous assortment of human and nonhuman characters — there was, as an illustration, Chairry, a speaking armchair that gave hugs — held forth in every episode about, effectively, it’s exhausting to summarize. There was a phrase of the day. There have been weird toys. In a single episode, Pee-wee married a fruit salad.
The present arrived within the midst of Ronald Reagan’s presidential administration and harked again to a different button-down period, the one Mr. Reubens lived as a toddler: the Nineteen Fifties.
‘‘I noticed it as very Norman Rockwell,” he instructed The New York Times in 2016, ‘‘nevertheless it was my Norman Rockwell model of the ’50s, which was extra all-inclusive.”
Laurence Fishburne, S. Epatha Merkerson and different actors of colour had been within the solid. Gilbert Lewis, who was Black, was the King of Cartoons.
“Not simply anyone — the king!” Mr. Reubens stated. “That got here out of rising up in Florida underneath segregation. I felt actually good about that.”
The present was a world away from commonplace instructional TV for youngsters — its classes, if any, had been delivered by means of wackiness fairly than didactically, and its presentation was decidedly nonlinear.
“I by no means got down to do a giant instructional present,” Mr. Reubens instructed Newsday in 1989. “We’re attempting to show youngsters to as a lot creativity as we will muster in a half-hour, to be entertaining and to transmit some subliminal messages, like nonconformity isn’t dangerous.”
The present had not been on lengthy earlier than lecturers and cultural critics had been analyzing its enchantment with weighty papers and different commentaries, however Mr. Reubens was having none of that.
“I’ve been virtually paranoid about dissecting it an excessive amount of,” he stated, “as a result of the character at all times has been a sort of instinctual intestine factor. I’m capable of flip it on, and it simply sort of flows. I do what I would like and hope it connects.”
The wheels of his profession got here off in July 1991, when he was arrested on a cost of indecent publicity in an grownup movie show in Sarasota, Fla., the place he had grown up. The arrest led to a small high quality, however the headlines broken his repute.
“Pee-wee’s Playhouse” was in reruns on the time, and CBS pulled them off the air. There have been no extra new episodes. Mr. Reubens stated later that he had been planning a hiatus from present enterprise anyway.
In any case, he took an extended break from his alter-ego, however neither Mr. Reubens nor Pee-wee was finished.
Mr. Reubens continued to behave, receiving an Emmy Award nomination for a visitor look on “Murphy Brown” in 1995. (His character arc on that present continued for 5 extra episodes.) He additionally weathered a second scandal: In 2002, he was arrested on a misdemeanor cost of possessing little one pornography because of photos discovered by the authorities in his assortment of classic erotica. He was sentenced to probation on a decreased cost of possessing obscene materials.
“The second that I spotted my identify was going to be stated in the identical sentence as youngsters and intercourse, that’s actually intense,” Mr. Reubens instructed NBC in 2004. “That’s one thing I knew from that very second, no matter occurs previous that time, one thing’s on the market within the air that’s actually dangerous.”
Then, about 2008, some producers started suggesting that he revive the Pee-wee character and a few model of the Eighties stage present. He was considerably reluctant.
“There have been age-related points to it,” Mr. Reubens told The Times in 2010, since he was by then in his 50s. “There have been career-standing points.”
“Each two months, I’d change my thoughts,” he instructed The Chicago Solar Occasions in 2010. “After which, lastly, sooner or later I awoke and determined, ‘That is it, I’m coming again.’”
The brand new model of “The Pee-wee Herman Present” opened at Membership Nokia in Los Angeles in January 2010, that includes parts of the unique stage present and characters from the TV collection. It opened on Broadway that November for a restricted run.
“Mr. Reubens’s Foolish Putty face is somewhat puttier, nevertheless it stays as stretchable as ever,” Charles Isherwood wrote in his review in The Times. “His Popsicle-stick posture retains its comical rigidity; the flapping arms categorical exasperation and pleasure with no lack of tone; the bopping Pee-wee dance continues to be beach-ball-buoyant. And naturally Pee-wee’s stressed creativeness and infantile temper swings are as extravagant as ever.”
A brand new film, “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” adopted in 2016 on Netflix, produced by Mr. Reubens and Judd Apatow. Mr. Reubens instructed The Occasions in 2010, when the movie was within the early speaking levels, that it was no shock that Pee-wee had endured.
“There’s by no means been something from the followers aside from, please do extra,” he stated.
Paul Rubenfeld was born on Aug. 27, 1952, in Peekskill, N.Y., to Milton and Judy (Rosen) Rubenfeld. His mom was a trainer, and his father had been a pilot who, based on The Forward, helped smuggle fighter planes into Israel in 1948 throughout its battle of independence.
The household moved to Sarasota when Paul was 9. His dad and mom ran a lamp retailer there. Paul had been at school and camp theatrical productions when he graduated to a much bigger stage: At 11, he had a key function because the younger nephew in a custody dispute in Herb Gardner’s play “A Thousand Clowns,” staged by the Sarasota Gamers.
“The 12-year-old is performed with outstanding assurance and stage-wise approach by Paul Rubenfeld, himself solely 11 years previous, a real expertise discovery,” Ray Perkins wrote in a evaluate in The Tampa Bay Occasions.
“Younger Actor Large Crowd Pleaser” learn a headline in the identical newspaper just a few days later over a characteristic article about him.
He appeared in a number of different exhibits with the Sarasota Gamers and in addition acted with the Asolo Theater Firm (now Asolo Repertory). He spent a 12 months at Boston College after graduating from Sarasota Excessive Faculty in 1970, however then went to the West Coast, finding out on the California Institute of the Arts and finally falling in with the Groundlings, working at a pizza parlor and promoting brushes whereas he developed his comedic expertise.
His first movie function, uncredited, was as a marriage visitor within the 1968 drama “The Brotherhood,” and he had a smattering of different roles earlier than Pee-wee took over. The primary identify of his enduring character, he stated, was borrowed from the tiny Pee Wee harmonica model. The final identify, Herman, was impressed by an irritating childhood acquaintance.
He’s survived by a sister, Abby Rubenfeld, and a brother, Luke Rubenfeld.
Simply months in the past he stated he was engaged on a memoir and a documentary. And in an interview with The Occasions round that point, certainly one of his final, he mirrored on the longevity of Pee-wee, on the changes that had been made to maintain the character contemporary, and on how the inventive panorama had modified since Pee-wee first appeared some 40 years in the past.
“In the present day, it appears to me, it’s much more troublesome to face out,” he stated. “You realize, if you wish to be bizarre, good luck.”
Jesus Jiménez and Melena Ryzik contributed reporting.