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Actor Paul Reubens Passes at 70

Paul Reubens

Actor Paul Reubens, best known as Pee-Wee Herman, passed away July 30, 2023, at the age of 70 from cancer.

His Early Years

Paul Reubens was born Paul Rubenfeld in Peekskill, New York in 1952, but grew up in Sarasota, Florida.

As a child, he frequented the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, whose winter headquarters are in Sarasota. The circus atmosphere sparked Reubens’ interest in entertainment, and influenced his later work.

Reubens moved to California after high school to attend the California Institute of the Arts, and in the 1970s began performing in local comedy clubs. He also made four guest appearances on “The Gong Show.”

In the mid-1970s, he joined the Los Angeles–based improvisational comedy team The Groundlings, and it was during an improv session that he came up with his career-defining character of “Pee-Wee Herman.”

In 1981, Reubens auditioned for “Saturday Night Live,” but when he didn’t get hired, he decided to turn Pee-Wee into a full stage show.

HBO aired “The Pee-wee Herman Show” in 1981 as part of their series “On Location.” Other bit parts as Pee-Wee, such as Cheech & Chong’s “Nice Dreams,” and appearances on talk shows like “Late Night with David Letterman” led to Warner Bros. hiring Reubens to write a script for a full-length Pee-wee Herman film.

“Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” debuted in 1985, followed by the CBS series “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” which ran from 1986 to 1991.

Reubens also took small parts in films such as 1992’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns” (Reubens portrayed the Penguin’s father), along with 1996’s “Matilda.”

Paul Reubens - Pee Wee Herman

His Disney Work

In 1986, Reubens (billed as Paul Mall) was the voice of the ship’s computer Max in Walt Disney Pictures’ “Flight of the Navigator.”

In 1987, Reubens provided the voice for the pilot droid RX-24 a.k.a. Captain “Rex” in Star Tours, the Star Wars-themed motion simulator attraction that appears at Disneyland, Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World, and Disneyland Paris. He reprised the role in the “Star Wars Rebels” episode “Droids in Distress,” and currently voices DJ R-3X, the house DJ of a bar and restaurant called Oga’s Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.


Other character voices he has done for Disney include: Fife in the 1997 film “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas”; Lock in “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Oogie’s Revenge”; the Milkman in “Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero”; Pavel in “Tron: Uprising”; Dennis in the 2004 film “Teacher’s Pet: The Movie”; Couch Dracula in “Pickle and Peanut”; and Professor Parenthesis in the “Phineas and Ferb” episode special “O.W.C.A. Files”.

Reubens also acted in person in the ABC series “Pushing Daisies,” in the role of Oscar Vibenius in the series’ 7th and 9th episodes.

Paul Reubens - Pushing Daisies

His Passing

Though Reubens had a few entanglements with the law, his charges were reduced to a lesser misdemeanor obscenity charge.

He went on to appear in several other projects including “Reno 911!,” “30 Rock,” and the Netflix sequel “Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” which aired in 2016.

“Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years,” wrote Reubens in a statement posted to his Instagram after his death. “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.”