Publicity still from 'Pee Wee's Playhouse' (CBS), a children's television show starring Paul Reubens...
John Kisch Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Pee-wee Herman Actor Paul Reubens Dies At 70 After Cancer Battle

The actor had privately fought cancer for years.

by Kaitlin Kimont

Paul Reubens, the actor behind the beloved TV character Pee-wee Herman, has died after a private battle with cancer for the past six years. He was 70 years old.

“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 on Reubens’ Instagram read. “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 statement concluded.

Before his death, Reubens wrote a note directly to his fans, which was included in the Instagram post, apologizing for not publicly announcing his cancer diagnosis. “Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years,” the quote from Reubens 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.”

“Paul 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,” the post concluded.

Paul Reubens in a 1986 episode of the CBS children’s television series Pee-wee’s Playhouse. The actor behind the character died on July 30 at the age of 70. John Kisch Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Reubens rose to fame in the 1980s, starring as the cheerful and childlike Pee-wee Herman in a variety of TV series and movies. After first portraying the character, which he invented in the ‘70s, for years in The Pee-wee Herman Show, a stage production that eventually evolved into an HBO special geared towards adult humor, Reubens went on to star in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, a kid-friendly movie that followed the character’s grand search to find his stolen bike. His popular children’s television series, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, then aired for five seasons, from 1986 to 1990 on CBS. Most recently, Reubens reprised his character in the 2016 Netflix movie Pee-wee’s Big Holiday with Joe Manganiello.

In a 2016 interview with Collider, Reubens said that even after all these years, he always found new ways to appreciate his Pee-wee character. “I’m not sure how I do it, but yeah, absolutely,” he told the outlet at the time. “I think it’s the same as being on stage, as a plain old actor, trying to figure out how to make it fresh, every night. And if you take a 15 or 20 year break in between, it becomes fresh again.”