Paul Reubens, known by generations (especially Gen Z and Millennials) as Pee-wee Herman, died Monday, July 31, 2023 after a long and publicly unknown battle with cancer. The news was released by his family on his Instagram and included this message from Paul himself:
“Please accept my apology for not going public with what I’ve been facing the last six years. 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.”
Pee-wee Herman / Instagram
Of course, his passing conjures up a host of images from his decades-long career. Chief among them is his run as his own unique original character Pee-wee Herman, whether it was from the TV series or the films. But, as a horror-loving ’90s kid myself, one of the most memorable performances was not as a loveable suit-wearing kid-at-heart, but as a one-armed vampire set on turning an entire high school dance full of airheaded teens to the dark side. Of all my favorite Paul Reubens performances, there’s no denying the magic of his role as Amilyn in 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I’m not talking about the gritty Sarah Michelle Gellar TV version of the property, but instead the colorful, “tubular,” thoroughly ’90s movie that came before it. Starring Kristy Swanson as the titular Buffy, it leaned way heavier into comedy than it did horror. And one of the characters that provided most of the jokes to the roster was Amilyn, none other than Paul Reubens.
Amilyn is the underling of the big bad vampire of the movie, Lothos, played by Rutger Hauer. Amilyn is the funny man to Lothos’ straight man, and we get so many great gems, despite Paul Reubens’ role being relatively small in the film.
“You ruined my new jacket! Kill him A LOT!”
Paul Reubens as Amilyn, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
The best moment comes toward the end of the film. As Buffy makes her way toward Lothos for the final battle, she comes across Amilyn in an empty stairwell. She makes quick work of him, slamming him in the chest with a wooden stake. Rather than going down immediately like all the other vampires, Paul Reubens really hams up his death scene. He groans in pain for so long that the scene is actually extended into the end-credits–a scene that the comic master had improvised.
It’s such a small choice, comedically, yet it’s one of the funniest bits of the movie. As I heard the news about the actor’s death, my mind immediately went back to that scene. Even just a small role had such a lasting impact. And that’s what Paul Reubens did. His contribution to entertainment stays with people, whether it’s as Pee-wee Herman or a vampire who just refuses to die.
Here’s a wonderful quote from a Tweet by Conan O’Brien about the loss of his friend:
“No tweet can capture the magic, generosity, artistry, and devout silliness of Paul Reubens. Everyone I know received countless nonsensical memes from Paul on their birthday, and I mean EVERYONE. His surreal comedy and unrelenting kindness were a gift to us all. Damn, this hurts.”
If you’re feeling as nostalgic as I am, you can watch Paul Reubens’ performance in Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Max.