Very sad news is coming in as it’s being reported that actor John Paragon has passed away. The talented performer, who was widely known for playing Jambi the Genie on the 80s children’s program Pee-wee’s Playhouse, reportedly died in April, though word of his death is just starting to make the press. His passing was confirmed by the Riverside County Coroner, but a cause of death has not been revealed. Paragon was 66 years old.
Many fans of Pee-wee’s Playhouse would say Jambi the Genie was just as important to the show as Pee-wee Herman. The character’s bedazzled face would frequently appear in a jeweled box every time Herman wished for something, usually with a big smile behind blue makeup. Paragon also provided the voice of Pee-wee’s pterodactyl pal Pterri and served as a writer and director for several episodes.
Along with Paul Reubens, Paragon co-write the hit 1988 television special Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special. The pair were nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Writing in a Children’s Special for their work. A slew of big name guest stars were featured for the special, including Annette Funicello, Magic Johnson, Cher, Little Richard, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Oprah Winfrey, Joan Rivers, and Frankie Avalon.
Originally, Paragon appeared on Pee-wee’s Playhouse for its entire series run from 1986 to 1991. He would end up reprising the role of Jambi the Genie decades later for the Broadway adaptation of The Pee-wee Herman Show in 2010. A talented live performer, the actor had gone one to more recently work with Walt Disney Imagineering, serving as an idea man for improv performances at Disney theme parks.
Paragon, an Anchorage, Alaska native who grew up in Colorado, got his start in show business by working with the Los Angeles improv group The Groundlings. This is where he met Reubens as well as Phil Hartman, who also appeared on Pee-wee’s Playhouse as Captain Carl. Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson was also a part of the group, and Paragon worked with the horror legend on various projects, such as playing the recurring role of “The Breather” for Elvira’s first TV series.
Over the years, Paragon has made several appearances elsewhere on television. Seinfeld fans will remember him as Cedric, who appeared in multiple episodes with his lover Bob (Yul Vazquez). Paragon’s other small screen credits include roles on The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show, Cheers, Silk Stalkings, Pacific Blue, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Mega Babies.
In film, Paragon also played the titular character in the children’s movie The Frog Prince. Some of his other movies include appearances in UHF, Double Trouble, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, and The Rich Man’s Wife. We last saw him in 2016 for the Netflix movie Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, reunited with Reubens one last time to appear in the holiday movie as a TV cameraman.
Our thoughts go out to Paragon’s loved ones at this time. The man was an incredible talent and he will certainly be missed by many all across the world. May he rest in peace. This news was first reported by TMZ.