Paul Reubens, the comedian known for his iconic comedic role as Pee-wee Herman, has died. According to a statement posted to social media, Reubens had been privately battling cancer for six years, and died on Sunday, July 30. The statement continued, “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 included a brief posthumous addition from Reubens, where he wrote, “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.”
In a signature gray suit and a red bowtie, Reubens first developed his signature character for a stage production in 1980, which he followed with an HBO special the next year. Reubens continued to make memorable television appearances in character as Herman after the fact, which led to the production of the 1985 cult-hit comedy movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. The film was also notable as the feature debut for director Tim Burton, who worked with Danny Elfman for the first time on its score. Another Pee-wee movie, Randal Kleiser’s Big Top Pee-wee, arrived in 1988.
Reubens channeled his success as Pee-wee into a children’s television series, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which premiered on CBS in 1986. Running until 1991, the show became Reubens’ outlet for bright, absurdist humor and colorful characters, with a theme song written by Mark Mothersbaugh and sung by Cyndi Lauper. Music was a central figure in the show, too, with Elfman, the Residents, Little Richard, Todd Rundgren, and more contributing to the show. Grace Jones made a memorable appearance on a Pee-wee Christmas special, where she sang “Little Drummer Boy.”
Several artists shared tributes to Reubens, among them Tegan and Sara, Sarah Sherman, and Questlove, who wrote, “Paul was one in a million. Always made you feel like no matter what you did it was important.” k.d. lang, who also appeared in the Christmas special, shared, “He was a genius. Gifted with curating humor with a good dose of social commentary,” she wrote, continuing, “I hope he is celebrated for that. Unfettered. As so he should. Swift rebirth you gorgeous light.”
Jack White shared his own remembrance of Reubens, who appeared in the video for the Raconteurs’ 2006 song “Steady As She Goes.” “He had incredible taste in music and was very funny in everyday life,” White wrote, noting that Reubens was “a good friend to me and reached out any time he felt I was in need.”