There will never be another Paul Reubens. The legendary comedic actor passed away on Sunday night at 70, after a private, multi-year battle with cancer. His mark on the entertainment industry is indelible, and the sadness his passing brings is palpable. Few performers are as representative of an “other” as Reubens was. As the child-like and imaginative Pee-Wee Herman, Reubens made a generation of weirdos feel seen and loved, and his work will continue to do that for generations to come.
I cannot remember when Paul Reubens was not a part of my life in one or another. There’s an argument that I could have been a normal person had I not been exposed to the talking chairs and singing flowers that adorned Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. Instead, I like to believe that my weirdness was always there, and Pee-Wee made me more ready to embrace it. I’m loud. I’m enthusiastic. I love camp. I’m a daydreamer through and through. Paul Reubens made me feel good about all of these things.
The older I got, and the more I explored Reubens’s career outside of his trademark Playhouse, I realized how lasting Reubens’s legacy was. Intentionally so. He set out to create work that the whole family could enjoy. Inspired by shows like Rocky and Bullwinkle, Reubens created Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. The character of Pee-Wee Herman, crafted at the Groundlings with the help of the incredible Phil Hartman, had a more adult-oriented bend. When he got his own Saturday morning show, he presented a program that the whole family could enjoy, albeit for different reasons.
The first television my children ever watched was the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special. The first movie they watched was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. When they started getting regular screen time, I tracked down the DVDs of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse because it wasn’t streaming anywhere. My kids watch some stuff I like that I try to pass on to them. Still, I don’t always sit and watch with them as screen time is usually employed so that I have time to make them food. When Pee-Wee’s Playhouse is on, we sit and watch together.
I am not the only one to lament Reubens’s passing. A friend is texting me his favorite Pee-Wee moments as I type this. Twitter is a trash fire right now. Still, if you visit it, you will find celebrities and pedestrian weirdos sharing their memories of this remarkable man. He inspired so many, and I hope he knew that.
An era of creativity has come to an end. Still, the lessons of love and acceptance that made Pee-Wee such an endearing character will live on. It’s okay to be weird. You should love yourself no matter who you are. Yell. Make a mess. Make that weird noise you want to make. Be the biggest, boldest, happiest version of yourself that you want to be. It’s what Paul Reubens would have wanted.