RIP Paul Reubens and the Ageless Pee-wee Herman
No matter how old Paul Reubens got, no matter how old any of us got, Pee-wee Herman seemed immune to the aging process. Even in 2016’s Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, released when Reubens was 64 years old, the titular character’s appearance was as youthful as ever (aided, Reubens admitted, by CGI that kept Pee-Wee forever young).
Maybe that’s one reason why it felt so shocking today when the news broke that Reubens had passed away after a long, private battle with cancer.
Pee-wee, Reuben’s most inspired creation, embodied not just youth but the fun, mischievousness and curiosity of childhood. His initial breakthrough, 1981’s The Pee-wee Herman Show on HBO, not only parodies children’s television but crackles with sparks of anarchy, a knowing wink at the devious minds at work in even the youngest kids. Soon Reubens would find a perfect partner in Tim Burton, whose inventive visuals matched Pee-wee’s manic comic sensibilities, both giddy and strangely dark. As Pee-wee confides to Dotty, the character is a rebel, defiantly irritating and narcissistic, even occasionally dangerous. Pee-wee was a comedy original, and a genius one at that.
Based on the accounts of his fellow comedians, Reubens was also exceptionally kind, treasured for his friendship as much as his incredible ability to make people laugh.
Reubens’ Pee-wee Herman was forever young, which somehow makes today seem more cruel. The idea that he might be out there reunited with Phil Hartman’s Captain Carl is a small consolation. As Conan O’Brien says, “Damn, this hurts.”