Paul Reubens, Creator of Pee-wee Herman, Is Dead at 70

THE NEW YORK TIMES – Paul Reubens, the comic actor whose childlike alter-ego Pee-wee Herman became a movie and television sensation in the 1980s, and whose career was briefly derailed by a sex scandal in the early 1990s, died on Sunday. He was 70.

His death 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.” She did not say where he died.

A full obituary will follow.

Reubens’ 1991 arrest

In July 1991, while visiting relatives, Reubens was arrested in Sarasota, Florida, for masturbating publicly in an adult theater.

Detectives would periodically visit pornographic theaters and observe the audience, arresting those engaged in what these detectives considered indecent exposure. (Said visit on the night of the incident also resulted in three other men being arrested on similar charges.)

“Bill Cosby defended Reubens, saying ‘Whatever (Reubens has) done, this is being blown all out of proportion.'”

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Reubens’ infamous mug shot, which did not depict the clean-cut look Reubens had shown for the last decade, shocked the public, and many thought that the show had been canceled due to the arrest.

In reality, the show had been canceled in 1990 due to a combination of multiple complaints of overworked crew members and a feeling that the Pee-Wee character had run its course, which ultimately resulted in Reubens deciding against a sixth season. However, due to its widespread popularity, CBS elected to rerun Playhouse in syndication.

The arrest was widely covered, and both the character Pee-wee and Reubens became the subject of ridicule. CBS stopped airing Playhouse and Disney-MGM Studios suspended from its studio tour a video that showed Pee-wee explaining how voice-over tracks were made and Toys-R-Us removed Pee-wee toys from its stores.

However, Disney’s Star Tours, which featured voicework from Reubens, remained unaltered.

Despite the negative publicity, many artists who knew Reubens, such as Cyndi Lauper, Annette Funicello, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Valeria Golino, spoke out in his support.

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Other people who knew Reubens, such as Playhouse’s production designer Gary Panter, S. Epatha Merkerson and Big Top Pee-wee director Randal Kleiser, also spoke out against the way Reubens was being treated by the media.

Reubens’s fans also organized rallies of support after CBS canceled the scheduled reruns, with several dozens of “Pee-weeites” picketing in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

The general public also appeared to sympathize with Reubens – the TV newsmagazine A Current Affair received “tens of thousands” of responses to a Pee-wee telephone survey, with callers supporting Reubens with a 9-to-1 majority.

He remained in a state of shock for weeks and was haunted by the arrest for several years, refusing to give interviews or appear on talk shows.

At the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards Reubens made his first public appearance after the arrest. Taking the stage in costume as Pee-wee, he asked the audience, “Heard any good jokes lately?” and received a standing ovation. Reubens responded with, “Ha, that’s so funny I forgot to laugh!” Pee-wee appeared once more in 1992, when he participated in a Grand Ole Opry tribute to Minnie Pearl.

Reubens then avoided interviews and, according to a 1991 Rolling Stone article, had become weary of the character and wanted to explore new territory. SOURCE. 

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