According to a statement on Facebook, the actor died Sunday night after a six-year battle with cancer.
“Last night we said farewell to Paul Reubens, an iconic American actor, comedian, writer and producer whose beloved character Pee-wee Herman delighted generations of children and adults with his positivity, whimsy and belief in the importance of kindness,” his team said in the statement.
The statement added that Reubens had “bravely and privately fought cancer for years with his trademark tenacity and wit.”
The post also quoted Reubens apologizing for not going public with his condition.
“Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years,” he said. “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.”
Calling the actor “gifted and prolific talent,” the actor’s team said, “He will forever live in the comedy pantheon and in our hearts as a treasured friend and man of remarkable character and generosity of spirit.”
Reubens’ character with his too-tight gray suit, white chunky loafers and red bow tie was best known for the film “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” and the TV series “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”
Herman created Pee-wee when he was part of the Los Angeles improv group The Groundlings in the late 1970s. The live “Pee-wee Herman Show” debuted at a Los Angeles theater in 1981 and was a success with both kids during matinees and adults at a midnight show. HBO would air the show as a special.
Reubens took Pee-wee to the big screen in 1985’s “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” The film, in which Pee-wee’s cherished bike is stolen, was said to be loosely based on Vittorio De Sica’s Italian neo-realist classic, “The Bicycle Thief.” The film, directed by Tim Burton and co-written by Phil Hartman of “Saturday Night Live,” sent Pee-wee on a nationwide escapade. The movie was a success, grossing $40 million, and continued to spawn a cult following for its oddball whimsy.
A sequel followed three years later in the less well-received “Big Top Pee-wee,” in which Pee-wee seeks to join a circus. Reubens’ character wouldn’t get another movie starring role until 2016’s Pee-wee’s Big Holiday,” for Netflix. Judd Apatow produced Pee-wee’s big-screen revival.
His television series, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” ran for five seasons, earned 22 Emmys and attracted not only children but adults to Saturday morning TV.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.