It was twenty years ago today that one of the most darkly comical incidents in pop culture history occurred...
Ahhh yes, Pee-wee Herman. By the end of the Eighties Pee-wee had conquered the world. From an HBO special that is still considered one of the best ever, to star of one of the funniest movies of all time, to the long-running CBS Saturday morning children's show Pee-wee's Playhouse. There were Pee-wee Herman dolls and toys in all the major retail outlets. Yes, Pee-wee had it all.
To have climbed so high. And then, to only fall so hard.
It was on July 26th, 1991 that Pee-wee's real-life alter-ego Paul Reubens was arrested for publicly masturbating at an adult movie theater in Sarasota, Florida. Detectives who had stationed themselves in the theater had witnessed Reubens exhibiting "Pee-wee's wee-wee" (okay, I tried, honest!!). Reubens attempted to get out of trouble by offering to do a "children's benefit" event with the sheriff's office "to take care of this", an offer that he also made to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune so that they would sit on the story. But it was to no avail. A few days later the mugshot photo of Reubens - with long hair, unshaven and looking totally disheveled - was all over the news.
Pee-wee Herman was done. Reubens made two more appearances as Pee-wee Herman, at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards (he received a standing ovation after taking to the stage and asking "Heard any good jokes lately?!") and then when he appeared at a Grand Ole Opry tribute to Minnie Pearl. And then, he went into apparent self-exile.
Pee-wee Herman, it seemed, was dead and buried.
And then in 2007, Paul Reubens brought Pee-wee Herman back. Following that year's Spike TV's Guys' Choice Awards, Pee-wee has since become the star of a successful Broadway show, and apparently a new movie is in the works.
But today, we remember that very strange situation two decades ago that had children all over America asking "Mommy, what does 'masturbate' mean?"
Seriously though, glad to see that Paul Reubens has enjoyed a career rebound. Pee-wee Herman seems to be bigger today than ever. Here's hoping that he'll be around for a long time to come :-)