Paul Reubens was best-known for portraying Pee-wee Herman, a childlike character that he first began developing as an improv actor in the ’70s.
Herman was beloved, appearing in numerous films and TV shows, but even Reubens himself, who died at the age of 70, couldn’t totally explain what made him so entertaining.
“Honestly, most questions that are asked of me about Pee-wee Herman I don’t have a clue on,” he admitted to Interview Magazine in 2009. “I’ve always been very careful not to dissect it too much for myself. I love when other people do, but it takes some of the fun out of the work when I have to start figuring out how Pee-wee Herman ticks.”
Before the massive mid-’80s success of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Reubens appeared in two Steve Martin TV specials and had a brief but memorable role in John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd’s The Blues Brothers. In 1991, a year after shutting down Playhouse, Reubens was arrested for indecent exposure and retreated from the public eye for several years.
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He made a successful comeback in 1995, earning an Emmy nomination for his guest star work on the series Murphy Brown. He then embarked on an eclectic new career phase, taking on supporting or guest star roles in a wide variety of both comedic and dramatic TV shows and movies. Reubens was also highly in demand as a voice actor, and in 2016 returned to the his most famous role for a third and final film, Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.
By that point it was clear that Reubens was much more than a one-trick pony. “I almost felt like Pee-wee Herman was conceptual art because I went to great lengths to make people think that he was a real person,” he explained in 2009, “…people know now that there’s an actor behind him.”
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Though best-known for his Pee-wee Herman character, the actor appeared in a wide range of roles.
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