Maybe you knew Paul Reubens from his iconic, dadaist 80s comedy series “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” Maybe you knew him as the cold, uncaring father of Oswald Cobblepot in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. However you knew him, you knew him as an unapologetically odd, decidedly queer-coded performer who brought a little weirdness into our humdrum lives for decades.
Reubens, the man who created the character Pee-wee Herman, was announced dead today at only 70 years old, after a long, private struggle with cancer.
Reubens, a Groundlings alumni, created the character Pee-wee Herman in the 1980s as part of a stage show. By the mid-80s, he’d teamed up with fellow unapologetic weirdo Tim Burton to take Pee-wee to the small screen with “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” The show, which ran from 1986-1990, was accompanied by two feature films, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Pee-wee’s Big Holiday. After a scandal in 2002 involving child pornography charges, Reubens’ life and sexuality were put under a magnifying glass, putting a temporary stop to the actor’s career. After the charges were dropped in 2004, Reubens found his way back into the spotlight just in time for renewed interest in the Pee-wee character from a new generation of fans.
Thank god for the Internet.
Though Reubens never officially came out or spoke about his sexuality, his deliberate oddness, offbeat sense of humor, and ability to playfully poke fun at societal mores made him a beloved queer icon to millions.
“Buffy the Vampire” fans are remembering his star turn on the series with fondness:
He stole the show each and every time, and we won’t ever forget him.