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"Pee-wee just kind of popped out one day, pretty much fully fleshed-out and fully formed."

Paul Reubens (born Paul Rubenfeld; August 27, 1952 – July 30, 2023) was an American actor, writer, film producer and comedian best known for his role as hyper Manchild Pee-wee Herman.

Spending a significant amount of his childhood in Oneonta, New York and Sarasota, Florida, Reubens regularly attended the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, its atmosphere sparking his interest in entertainment and influencing his later work. He decided early on that he wanted to make people laugh due to his love of watching I Love Lucy reruns. He joined the local Asolo Theater at the age of eleven, appearing in a variety of plays during the next six years. After graduating high school in 1970, he attended Boston University for a year before dropping out and seeking his fortune in Hollywood.

In the mid-1970s, Paul Reubens' acting career grew steadily yet slowly with small roles in theater productions, gigs at local comedy clubs and four guest appearances on The Gong Show. During his time of pursuing an acting major at California Institute of the Arts as well as working in a string of pay-the-rent jobs, Reubens joined an improvisational comedy troupe called The Groundlings. Among Reubens' contributions to the comedic community were a philandering husband named Moses Feldman, an Indian chief named Jay Longtoe and cult character Pee-wee Herman, who debuted in 1978. Only appearing in ten minutes of The Groundlings as Pee-wee, Reubens nonetheless built up a considerable following, turning out to be a star of the '80s, marking his comedic fictional character's first significant appearance on the stage show The Pee-wee Herman Show, followed by big-screen roles in 1985's Pee-wee's Big Adventure (which is notable for being the feature-length directorial debut of an up-and-coming Tim Burton) and 1988's Big Top Pee-wee. He even appeared in a memorably Narmy PSA for the Partnership for Drug-Free America's "The Thrill Can Kill" campaign which was shown in mostly movie theatres and featured prominent celebrities talking about the dangers of crack cocaine.

Sadly, the squeaky clean image of Pee-wee Herman was destroyed on July 28, 1991, when Reubens fell victim to a police sting operation while visiting his parents in Sarasota during his summer vacation. Seeking to escape from boredom, Reubens went to catch a showing of X-rated film Nurse Nancy, where he was arrested for sex charges when detectives allegedly caught him enjoying the movie a little too much. Released on $219 bail, nobody realized what happened until somebody recognized him beneath his long hair and goatee in his mugshot. As a result, CBS dropped Pee-wee's Playhouse (contrary to popular belief at the time, CBS didn't "cancel" the show; Reubens and the network had already agreed to end it, and in fact the final new episode had aired in November 1990; what CBS did do was stop airing reruns) and related merchandise was released from its shelves. Reubens pleaded "no contest" during his trial, and he agreed to pay a $50 fine plus $85 in court costs, as well as 75 hours of community service. As part of the deal, the county sealed all legal papers relating to the actor's arrest, not leaving Reubens with a criminal record.

In 2002, 11 years after being arrested for masturbating in a movie theater, Reubens was arrested for having items of child pornography in his Hollywood Hills home. Originally, a year earlier, The National Enquirer reported that a 15-year-old boy accused Reubens and Jeffrey Jones (who also worked with Tim Burton) of child abuse. The boy claimed Reubens and Jones forced him to perform oral sex on them, and was doing so for awhile, until the boy backed out, when he was afraid of what might happen to him if it continued. The story was later debunked as related to Reubens, with the child abuse charges being limited to Jones. The contents of the "child porn" turned out to be some old teen muscle magazines found among his large collection of vintage erotica that he would purchase in bulk through a buyer, as well as Rob Lowe's notorious 1988 sex tape (the one that showed him having sex with a random 16-year-old he had met at a nightclub in Atlanta). Nevertheless, this was technically a violation, and Reubens agreed in 2004 to probation for three years, in which he was not allowed to be in the company of minors without their parents' permission.

Despite promising to never reprise his role of Pee-wee Herman after the scandal marked the virtual death of his iconic character, Paul Reubens revived his cult persona in a 2011 theater revival, bringing him full circle to the more adult theme of the original acts.

Though his career never reached Herman's heights again, Reubens landed in offbeat character roles as well as vocal roles. Pee-wee got one more big moment in the spotlight in 2016, with the Netflix original film, Pee-wee's Big Holiday.

Reubens passed away on July 30, 2023 at the age of 70, following six years of a private battle with cancer, as announced on his official Facebook page.


Notable Filmography:

    As Pee-wee Herman 

    Film 

    Television 


Tropes associated with Paul Reubens:

  • As Himself: While portraying his Pee-wee Herman role, Paul Reubens wanted the character to be thought of a real life stand-up comedian who expanded his career by playing himself in films and TV series. It's also worth noting Reubens' Manchild character has been credited as "Pee-wee Herman" on talk shows as well like Jimmy Kimmel Live!, The Ed Sullivan Show and Entertainment Tonight. For much of the '80s, he always appeared in character as Pee-wee in public. A big part of what made his arrest so shocking was that his mug shot looked so different.
  • The Cameo: Has a small part as 'Pinball Proprietor' in Midnight Madness as well as the waiter serving Jake and Elwood when they go find Mr. Fabulous.
  • Camp: His projects tend to prominently feature vintage kitsch in them.
  • Iconic Outfit: As Pee-wee Herman, it's the signature grey glen plaid suit a size too small, small red bow tie, white tasseled loafers, short black hair, pale skin with red rouge and red lipstick.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Shortly after his 1991 arrest, Reubens was invited to open that year's MTV Video Music Awards. By all accounts he was incredibly hesitant to do so (including nearly backing out just hours before airtime), but decided to go ahead. He ended up receving huge applause when he walked onstage, and proceeded to leave the audience in hysterics by yelling "Heard any good jokes lately?!", followed up with his standard "Oh, oh yeah, that was so funny I forgot to laugh!" response.
  • Role Reprise:
    • In 2007, Reubens appeared at Spike TV's Guys' Choice Awards in character as Pee-wee Herman for the first time since 1991 and stated that he planned to do more with the character. He then went on to play Pee-wee for late night talk shows, live performances, and even a new Pee-wee Herman movie for Netflix.
    • He also portrayed the father of Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot/The Penguin in Batman Returns, a role he would go on to reprise in Gotham.
  • Self-Deprecation: After his original arrest, Reubens was presenting at an awards show and started off by asking the audience, "So...heard any good jokes lately?".
  • What Could Have Been: Paul Reubens originally auditioned for Saturday Night Live in 1980 (when the original cast members, writers, and Lorne Michaels left, and Jean Doumanian was hired). On the one hand, the idea of Pee-wee Herman as a recurring character would have made SNL at the time more palatable (but only if Eddie Murphy were never hired). On the other hand, Reubens' career probably would have stalled or never gotten off the ground if he was a cast member during the sixth season (cited by many as the worst season ever), as, outside of Eddie Murphy and Gilbert Gottfried (and, to a lesser extent, Denny Dillonnote , Charles Rocketnote , and Gail Matthiusnote ), nobody from season six went on to lasting fame since they were associated with such a horrible season.
    • Not to mention getting spurned by SNL inspired him to put together his own show. He conceived of the Pee-wee Herman character on the plane ride home, borrowed some money from his parents, cast his friends from improv, and the rest is history. So he walked away with a successful original character that was all his own, not Lorne Michaels' or NBC's.
    • Reubens was also supposed to be the voice of Flapjack on the Cartoon Network show The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, but never showed up to audition, so Thurop Van Orman (the show creator) stepped in, doing a Pee-wee Herman-esque voice.


 
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