“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.”
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.”