John Paragon, the actor and comedian known best for playing Jambi the Genie on Pee-wee's Playhouse, has died at age 66, TMZ reported Thursday. Paragon reportedly died in April due to unknown causes and was mourned by The Groundlings, where he got his start performing improv in Los Angeles, on Twitter after news of his passing broke. "R.I.P. John Paragon," the theater and school wrote.
It was at The Groundlings he would meet classmates including Paul Reubens, Phil Hartman and Cassandra Peterson, all of whom he would work with later in his career. Paragon would make his TV debut in The Pee-wee Herman Show as the sassy genie Jambi in what was initially a stage show developed by Reubens in 1980. He would reprise his role as Jambi in Pee-wee's Playhouse from 1986 to 1990, even writing and directing several episodes of the children's show. Paragon and Reubens co-wrote Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special, which earned them an Emmy nomination in 1988 for Best Writing in a Children's Special. Paragon would also take his performance as Jambi to Broadway in 2010 for the newer stage adaptation of the Pee-wee Herman stage show.
R.I.P John Paragon https://t.co/cUo4jXMYPm— The Groundlings (@groundlings) June 18, 2021
Reubens recalled of meeting Paragon at The Groundlings in a January 2020 profile for The Hollywood Reporter, "The really big thing at the time was conceptual art, performance art, that kind of stuff," he explained of the creative atmosphere he and his like-minded performers were navigating. "Me and Phil Hartman and John Paragon, who was Jambi the Genie, we were the three male 'stars' at The Groundlings. We would sit in my car in the parking lot and fantasize and talk about what it would be like to be working actors."
In addition to his work on Pee-wee projects, Paragon was widely known for his roles on Seinfeld, Cheers, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Pacific Blue, and Elvira's Movie Macabre, in which he appeared in a recurring role as The Beather. He also appeared in films including Echo Park, The Frog Prince, Airplane II: The Sequel and Honey I Blew Up the Kid. Paragon's Groundlings bio revealed he would later work with Walt Disney Imagineering, helping to design ways to "incorporate improvisational performance into attractions at Disney parks."