Paul Reubens, the comedian/actor who brought the beloved character and pop culture icon Pee-wee Herman to the masses, has died at the age of 70, following a private battle with cancer.
His estate announced on social media that Reubens died Sunday night (July 30). The post included a statement from Reubens himself, saying that he’s been battling cancer for the past six years.
“Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years,” he wrote. “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.”
His estate wrote in the caption, “Last night we said farewell to Paul Reubens, an iconic American actor, comedian, writer and producer whose beloved character Pee-wee Herman delighted generations of children and adults with his positivity, whimsy and belief in the importance of kindness. Paul bravely and privately fought cancer for years with his trademark tenacity and wit. 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.”
Reubens asked that any expressions of sympathy be made to Stand Up To Cancer or organizations for Dementia & Alzheimer’s care, support, and research, in honor of his late parents, Judy and Milton Rubenfeld.
Born Paul Rubenfeld, he kicked off his career in the 1970s, joining the LA-based comedy troupe The Groundlings as an improv comic and stage actor.
Of course, he would find his biggest success as the whimsical, childlike character he spent years developing. “The Pee-wee Herman Show” debuted on stage in 1980 and ran for five sold-out months, leading to a well-received HBO special in 1981.
Reubens brought his character to the big screen with 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, toning down the adult innuendos to make the film more kid-friendly. Two more films would follow: 1988’s Big Top Pee-wee and 2016’s Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.
He was also the star of his own Emmy-winning CBS series, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which ran from 1986 to 1991.
Outside of his Pee-wee character, Reubens had several other prominent TV and film roles in Gotham, What We Do In The Shadows, 30 Rock, and The Blues Brothers.
A rep for the actor confirmed to PEOPLE that he completed the first draft of his upcoming memoir at the time of his passing. He had also wrapped up scripts for two more Pee-wee movies and was developing several TV projects.
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