Paul Reubens, the actor best known as his alter ego Pee-wee Herman, died Sunday. The official Pee-wee Herman accounts announced the news on Instagram.
The post included a note from Reubens apologizing to fans for keeping his battle with cancer a secret. Reubens said he had been battling cancer for six years. He was 70.
While a member of the Groundlings comedy troupe, Reubens created the character of Pee-wee. Pee-wee wore a suit and bow tie and spoke in a high-pitched voice with catchphrases like “I know you are but what am I” and “That’s so funny I forgot to laugh.”
Pee-wee was popularized in a stage show Reubens performed that introduced many characters who would later appear in his Saturday morning show Pee-wee’s Playhouse. HBO aired The Pee-wee Herman Show to mass audiences.
Reubens brought the character to the movies in the original film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, the first feature film directed by Tim Burton. The Pee-wee themes also began Danny Elfman’s career as a prolific film composer.
A sequel, Big Top Pee-wee saw Herman as a farmer when a traveling circus came to town. Reubens performed an updated Pee-wee Herman Show during a Pee-Wee revival in 2010.
A third Pee-wee film, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday premiered on Netflix in 2016. Reubens also played Pee-wee in Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie, Back to the Beach, episodes of 227 and Sesame Street, and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker video. He hosted Saturday Night Live as Pee-Wee in 1985.
Outside of the Pee-wee costume, Reubens appeared in the film Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Batman Returns, Matilda, Blow, and recently on What We Do in the Shadows and The Conners.
As a voice actor, Reubens played the voice of the spaceship in Flight of the Navigator, Lock in The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jokey Smurf in the recent Smurfs movies, and various roles in television and video games.