The Late Paul Reubens’ Most Memorable Roles (From Pee-wee Herman to Penguin’s Father)

PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens), 1985
Warner Bros./Everett Collection

Paul Reubens recently passed away at the age of 70 after a private battle with cancer. He was best known for playing the iconic Pee-wee Herman, so much so, that he often made public appearances as Pee-wee instead of himself. Not only that, but he played villains, princes, and smurfs. He was not only a character actor, but lent his voice to several projects including the Smurfs movies, Dr. Doolittle, The Flintstone Comedy Show, Rugrats, and more. Let’s begin with the classics!

Pee-wee Herman in ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’

PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, Pee Wee Herman, 1985, (c) Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection

Reuben’s most memorable role was playing Pee-wee Herman, of course. He appeared in the 1985 film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and co-wrote the screenplay with several others. The film follows his search for his stolen bicycle and ran after the success of The Pee-wee Herman Show.

This was actually Tim Burton‘s film directorial debut, making it an even bigger deal! Many years later, it is considered a cult classic and helped to secure Burton as one of the most famous directors ever. Reubens reprised his role in 1988’s Big Top Pee-wee and again many years later in 2016 for Netflix’s Pee-wee’s Big Holiday.

Pee-wee Herman in ‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse’

PEE-WEE's PLAYHOUSE, Paul Reubens, 1986-1990

CBS/Everett Collection

After the success of the film, Reubens returned to play the goofy character from 1986 to 1990. The show aired on Saturday mornings and continued to show reruns after it was canceled. The show also became a cult classic and has been ranked as No. 10 and No. 12 on TV Guide’s Top Cult Shows Ever in different years. Do you remember the secret word in each episode? We ranked them all here!

While he is best known for playing Pee-wee, Reubens had a successful career for over 40 years diving into other roles. Let’s go over some of them to recall where else he shined on the screen.

Penguin’s Father in ‘Batman Returns’ and ‘Gotham’

Reubens played the father of Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin in Batman Returns and helped move the story along yet didn’t have any dialogue in the film. It proved that he could deliver an amazing performance in just a few scenes without saying a word. He was able to reprise his role and showcase his character in a different way in Gotham. He’s given a name in this one, Elijah Van Dahl. His character comes back into Penguin’s life after he is already a criminal in the Batman universe and they reconciled before he is killed. Reubens proved that he could play a villain, not just sweet Pee-wee.

Andrew J. Lansing in ‘Murphy Brown’

MURPHY BROWN, Paul Reubens, Candice Bergen, (Season 8), 1988-1998

Warner Bros. Television/Everett Collection

After his 1991 arrest, his reputation and career were on a downward swing. His comeback role was a six-episode arc on Murphy Brown as one of her assistants. Several others played her short-lived assistants, but many love Reubens’ character in particular. This was definitely an important role for Reubens to return him to regular acting outside of voice-over work.

Mr. Vargas in ‘The Blacklist’

THE BLACKLIST, Paul Reubens in 'Dr. James Covington' (Season 2, Episode 3, aired October 6, 2014)

Virginia Sherwood/NBC/Everett Collection

In The Blacklist, he plays a very creepy villain who starts out by berating a woman for leaving her dog alone in the house all day. The randomness of the scene and his performance is quite creepy and was another example of how he played a bad guy quite well.

Gerhardt Hapsburg in ’30 Rock’

One of his funnier roles was Gerhardt Hapsburg in the sitcom 30 Rock. His character was not only odd looking but had a voice that would jump up and down in volume. He fell in love with Jane Krakowski‘s Jenna and intentionally killed himself by drinking champagne so he could die happy just after knowing the love of a beautiful woman. He definitely excelled at playing oddball characters.

Derek Foreal in ‘Blow’

BLOW, Paul Reubens, 2001

Everett Collection

One of his best and most memorable appearances came in the film Blow, as he played the charming Derek Foreal alongside Johnny Depp‘s George Yung. Overall, during his long career, he proved that he could play many different types of characters well, and aside from some troubles with the law, many will always remember him as the beloved Pee-wee Herman.

Tell us, what is your favorite Reubens’ role?

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