Paul Reubens, born Paul Rubenfeld on August 27, 1952, was an American actor, comedian, writer, and producer best known for his iconic character, Pee-wee Herman. He was born in Peekskill, New York, and developed a passion for performing at an early age. He grew up in a Jewish family in Sarasota, Florida, where his parents, Judy (Rosen) and Milton Rubenfeld, owned a lamp store.
His mother was a teacher. His father was an automobile salesperson who had flown for Britain’s Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II. He later became one of the founding pilots of the Israeli Air Force during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. An Orthodox Jew, he was one of five Jewish pilots to fly against Arab forces in smuggled fighter planes. As a child, he frequented the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, whose winter headquarters were in Sarasota.
The circus atmosphere sparked Reubens’s interest in entertainment and influenced his later work. He also loved to watch reruns of I Love Lucy, which made him want to make people laugh. At age 5, Reubens asked his father to build him a stage, where he and his siblings would act out plays.
Reubens attended Sarasota High School, where he was named president of the National Thespian Society. Next, he studied theater and improv comedy at the California Institute of the Arts. The character of Pee-wee Herman was created by Reubens in the late 1970s and became a sensation in the 1980s. Pee-wee is a childlike, quirky, and eccentric man-child with a distinctive high-pitched voice, a gray suit, a red bow tie, and a red bicycle.
However, Paul Reubens faced a career setback in 1991 when he was arrested for indecent exposure in an adult movie theater in Sarasota, Florida. The incident led to a public scandal, and Reubens took a hiatus from performing as Pee-wee Herman. After the scandal, Reubens continued his career, taking on various roles in film and television, often in supporting or guest-starring roles.
The first movie was “Batman Returns” (1992), “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1992), “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (voice of Lock – 1993), “Dr. Dolittle” (1998), “Blow” (2001), “The Tripper” (2006), “Reno 911!: Miami” (2007), and “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday” (2016). Besides his own Pee-wee television shows, he also appeared in episodes of “Working Stiffs” (1979), “The Flintstone Comedy Show” (voice 1980-1981), “Mork & Mindy” (1981),
“Murphy Brown” (1995-1997), “Everybody Loves Raymond” (2000), “You Don’t Know Jack” (2001), “Ally McBeal” (2001), “Reno 911” (2006), “30 Rock” (2007), “Dirt” (2007), “Tron: Uprising” (voice – 2012-2013), “Robot Chicken” (voice – 2012-2015),
“The Blacklist” (Mr. Vargas – 2014-2015), “Gotham” (2015-2017), “Mosaic” (2018), “Legends of Tomorrow” (voice -2018-2019), and “The Conners” (2019). In 2010, Paul Reubens resurrected the Pee-wee Herman character with a critically acclaimed stage show called “The Pee-wee Herman Show,” which played in Los Angeles and on Broadway.
The success of the stage show led to the creation of a new Pee-wee Herman movie on Netflix, titled “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” released in 2016. Throughout his career, Reubens has remained actively involved in various creative projects, showcasing his versatility as an actor and performer. His contributions to pop culture and comedy have left an indelible mark, with Pee-wee Herman becoming an enduring and beloved character.
Paul Reubens died of cancer on Sunday, July 30, 2023, at the age of 70, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He had been diagnosed with it six years earlier but had not revealed his diagnosis to the public.
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.Paul Reubens – from a statement written before he died
As an iconic member of The Groundlings in the 1970-80s, Paul created his infamous character of Pee-wee Herman here, which became a cultural phenomenon that spanned decades. Paul’s contributions to comedy and entertainment have left a lasting impact on the world, and he will be greatly missed by all in the Groundlings community. We love you, Paul.The Groundlings Improv and Sketch comedy theatre, where Reubens got his start as a performer
- The 1948 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the Israeli War of Independence or Nakba (Catastrophe) by the Palestinians, was a conflict that erupted following the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, opposed the creation of Israel and launched a military campaign to prevent its establishment and protect Palestinian interests. The war saw intense fighting between Israeli forces, composed of Haganah, Irgun, and Lehi militias, and the Arab armies. The conflict resulted in significant territorial changes, with Israel expanding its borders beyond the United Nations partition plan’s proposed boundaries. By the time the war ended in early 1949, Israel had secured control over more territory than originally allocated to it, while Jordan and Egypt occupied parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, respectively, leading to a significant refugee crisis among the Palestinian population. [Back]
- The National Thespian Society, also known as the International Thespian Society (ITS), is an honor society for high school and middle school theatre students. It was founded in 1929 by a group of drama teachers and is currently administered by the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA). The society’s mission is to honor excellence in the field of theatre arts and promote the importance of theatre education in schools. Thespian troupe members earn induction by accumulating points through participation in theatre productions, leadership roles, and community service. Inducted students become part of a network of theatre enthusiasts and gain access to various resources and opportunities to further their theatrical education and careers. The National Thespian Society has chapters in schools across the United States and around the world, fostering a community of passionate young artists dedicated to the art of theatre. [Back]
- “Pee-wee Herman – Wikipedia.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 31 July 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pee-wee_Herman.
- Paul Reubens – IMDb. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000607/
- Paul Reubens Biography – Biography.com. https://www.biography.com/actor/paul-reubens
- “1948 Arab–Israeli War.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 August 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Arab%E2%80%93Israeli_War.
- “International Thespian Society.” Educational Theatre Association, https://www.schooltheatre.org/internationalthespiansociety.
- “National Thespian Society.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 June 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Thespian_Society.
- “Paul Reubens, actor best known as Pee-wee Herman, dies at 70” (July 31, 2023) https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/paul-reubens-actor-best-known-pee-wee-herman-dies-70-rcna97343