Paul Reubens, the comic actor whose childlike alter-ego Pee-wee Herman became a movie and television sensation in the 1980s, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 70.
His death, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was confirmed on Monday by his longtime representative Kelly Bush Novak, who said he had “privately fought cancer for years with his trademark tenacity and wit.”
“Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years,” Mr. Reubens said in a statement released with the announcement of his death, The Associated Press reported. “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.”
Mr. Herman had scores of acting credits in a career that began in the 1960s, including roles on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Murphy Brown,” “The Blacklist” and many other television series and in movies like “Batman Returns” (1992) and “Blow” (2001).
But Pee-wee, a character he created in the late 1970s as a 10-minute bit when he was a member of the Los Angeles comedy troupe the Groundlings, overshadowed all else, morphing into a bizarre and savvy cultural phenomenon, a character aimed — at least in its TV incarnation — at children but tapping into adult sensibilities and ambiguities.
After being disappointed after auditioning unsuccessfully for the “Saturday Night Live” cast in 1980, Mr. Reubens set about creating “The Pee-wee Herman Show,” which was billed as a “live onstage TV pilot.” It had its premiere in early 1981 at the Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles. A national tour followed, and HBO broadcast a version of it as a comedy special in 1981.
Then, in 1986, came “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” a (mostly) children-friendly version that aired on CBS for five years.
Mr. Reubens’ career was set back in 1991, when he was arrested on a charge of indecent exposure in an adult movie theater in Sarasota, Fla., where he had grown up. The arrest led to a small fine, but the headlines damaged his reputation.
“The moment that I realized my name was going to be said in the same sentence as children and sex, that’s really intense,” he told NBC in 2004. “That’s something I knew from that very moment, whatever happens past that point, something’s out there in the air that is really bad.”
A full obituary will follow.