Paul Reubens' Career-Ending Arrest Explained

Paul Reubens, better known as Pee-wee Herman, had a major career blip in the 1990s that some would say ultimately led to the downfall of his career. Reubens' career began in the 1970s after he joined the Los Angeles improv comedy group The Groundlings, per The Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was here that the comedian developed a character that would change the entertainment world forever.

In 1982, he brought Pee-wee Herman to audiences everywhere. The hilarious character kept adults, children, and everyone in between entertained. In 2009, Reubens told Interview how he developed the impactful character. "I almost felt like Pee-wee Herman was conceptual art because I went to great lengths to make people think that he was a real person," he shared.

Although many were entertained by Pee-wee Herman, he ultimately struck gold amongst kids. Reubens committed to the entire bit and took on the persona of Pee-wee Herman to the fullest extent. According to The Hollywood Walk of Fame, he and CBS launched a kids' television show titled "Pee-wee's Playhouse" in 1986. The show ran for an incredible four years as people couldn't get enough of the hilarious character. However, at the height of his career, Reubens' world turned upside down, as he got into some serious legal trouble in the 90s.

Paul Reubens tried to bribe officers after he was arrested

In July 1991, Paul Reubens, aka Pee-wee Herman, was arrested in Sarasota, Florida, per Tampa Bay Times. According to the Sarasota County sheriff's affidavit, undercover detectives raided the XXX South Trail Cinema, which was an adult movie theater. Three men were arrested before they spotted a fourth man, who they later identified as Reubens. Tampa Bay Times reported that "Reubens was observed exposing himself and masturbating" in the theater. The comedian was charged with "exposure of a sexual organ" and was later released on a $219 bond.

At the time, authorities had no idea Reubens was the well-known children's character Pee-wee Herman, per Yahoo Entertainment. But when another officer filled them in on who Reubens was, the comedian tried to use it to his advantage. According to Entertainment Weekly, Reubens reportedly offered to "perform a children's benefit for the sheriff's office if the charges were dropped." Knowing this would affect his career greatly, the comedian tried to do anything that might soften the blow. However, officials didn't let Reuben's celebrity status influence their decisions and the comedian had to deal with the repercussions of his arrest. A $1,000 fine and a year in jail loomed over the comedian, as he had to wait to be officially charged.

Paul Reubens received support from his fans, but not CBS

News of Paul Reubens' arrest took off like wildfire and there was a conflicting array of emotions about his legal troubles. Many fans supported of the comedian, but when it came to larger corporations, they did not, per Yahoo Entertainment. Just days after Reubens' arrest, CBS announced it would no longer be airing the reruns of "Pee-wee's Playhouse." Toys 'R' Us also announced it was pulling all Pee-wee Herman toys off its shelves (although they weren't necessarily in high demand anyway). Reubens' voice was also removed from the studio tour at MGM in Florida. Clearly, he had burned some major bridges.

Surprisingly, however, many fans stood behind Reubens. According to Entertainment Weekly, there were several "Free Pee-wee" rallies held in some major cities. In addition, the comedian also received some support from big-name celebrities. Ironically, Bill Cosby was one of those celebrities who defended Reubens. "The Cosby Show" star said, "Whatever [Reubens has] done, this is being blown all out of proportion." According to Yahoo Entertainment, even officers of the Sarasota County Police Dept. were in favor of the comedian. One officer reportedly said, "I sure hope things work out for old Pee-wee."

According to The New York Times, Reubens pleaded no contest and was slapped with a small fine and 75 hours of community service. Not too bad of a punishment — but the damage to his career was already done.

Paul Reubens; career never truly bounced back

Paul Reubens' lawyer, Dan Dannheiser, kind of predicted what was to come after the comedian's 1991 arrest. According to the New York Daily News, Dannheiser had told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, "He [Reuben] does a lot of things with kids over the world, and his career will be over when the story runs." Although Reubens had support from loyal fans, his career never truly bounced back

After his arrest in 1991, Reubens took a break from the spotlight. He eventually went on to do several more acting gigs, just not as Pee-wee Herman, according to IMDb. In 2004, he revealed that he never fully understood the repercussions of being in the legal situation he was in. He told NBC News, "I certainly wasn't thinking to myself you're a children's show host. Your show is still on television. I wasn't making those lists. I felt like they were insinuating like, well, I was sitting in you know, a darkened movie theater, in my Pee-Wee suit." Still, he confessed that he was mortified by the situation.

And it wasn't just the 1991 arrest that affected Reubens' career, because he was later involved in a child pornography case in 2004, per NBC News. It seemed that with all his legal troubles, the image of Pee-wee Herman was tainted. However, he did attempt to revive the character several times years later, but it was never as successful as it had been in the 80s.