Stars remember Pee-wee Herman actor Paul Reubens: ‘It’s a huge loss for comedy’

The actor and comedian died on Sunday aged 70 after a six-year struggle with cancer.

Ellie Iorizzo
Tuesday 01 August 2023 09:40 BST
Paul Reubens, best known for his character Pee-wee Herman, has been remembered for his ‘devout silliness and unrelenting kindness’ following his death at the age of 70 (Charles Sykes/AP)
Paul Reubens, best known for his character Pee-wee Herman, has been remembered for his ‘devout silliness and unrelenting kindness’ following his death at the age of 70 (Charles Sykes/AP)

“Comedy genius” Paul Reubens, best known for his character Pee-wee Herman, has been remembered for his “devout silliness and unrelenting kindness” following his death at the age of 70.

The actor and comedian died on Sunday night after a six-year struggle with cancer that he did not make public, his publicist confirmed in a statement.

The character, with his overtight grey suit, white chunky shoes and red bow tie, was best known from the film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and the TV series Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

Tim Burton, who directed 1985 film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, in which Pee-wee’s cherished bike is stolen, shared a black and white picture of himself with Reubens on the bike and said he was “shocked and saddened” to learn of his death.

He said: “I’ll never forget how Paul helped me at the beginning of my career. It would not have happened without his support. He was a great artist. I’ll miss him.”

Meanwhile, Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro said Reubens was “one of the patron saints of all misfitted, weird, maladjusted, wonderful, miraculous oddities”.

He later tweeted: “Never met Paul, will always miss him.”

Ghostbusters and Bridesmaids director Paul Feig described Reubens’ death as “devastating” and “truly heartbreaking”.

He tweeted: “Paul was such a comedy genius. From his Letterman appearances to his TV shows and movies, he was so original and hilarious.

“And such a sweet man too. This is a huge loss for comedy. Thanks for all the laughs, Paul.”

US late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel said in a tribute on Instagram that Reubens was “like no-one else”.

“A brilliant and original comedian who made kids and their parents laugh at the same time,” he said.

“He never forgot a birthday and shared his genuine delight for silliness with everyone he met. My family and I will miss him.”

Similarly, late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien tweeted: “Everyone I know received countless nonsensical memes from Paul on their birthday, and I mean EVERYONE.”

He continued: “No tweet can capture the magic, generosity, artistry, and devout silliness of Paul Reubens… His surreal comedy and unrelenting kindness were a gift to us all.

“Damn, this hurts.”

In a statement released with the announcement of his death, Reubens said: “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.”

Responding to the posthumous message, Star Wars actor Mark Hamill tweeted: “We loved you right back, Paul… & can’t thank you enough for the lifetime of laughter!”

Reubens created Pee-wee when he was part of Los Angeles improv group The Groundlings in the late 1970s.

The live Pee-wee Herman Show debuted at a Los Angeles theatre in 1981 and HBO later aired the show as a special.

Reubens took Pee-wee to the big screen in 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and sent Pee-wee on a nationwide escapade. The film grossed 40 million US dollars (£31 million), and spawned a cult following for its oddball whimsy.

A sequel followed three years later in the less well-received Big Top Pee-wee, in which Pee-wee seeks to join a circus, and the character did not headline another film until 2016 with Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, for Netflix.

The character, who is fond of secret words and loves fruit salad so much he once married it, championed non-conformity, while the Pee-wee universe was populated by things such as a talking armchair and a friendly pterodactyl.

Reubens once said in an interview: “I think my entire career path was determined for me when I was six years old, watching reruns of I Love Lucy on TV and thinking about making people laugh.”

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