John Paragon (Jambi on ‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse’), RIP
John Paragon, the actor and writer who played Jambi the genie on Pee-Wee's Playhouse, has died. News of his death only broke Thursday night, but the Riverside County Coroner told TMZ that Paragon died in April. No cause of death has been reported. He was 66.
Like Paul Reubens and Phil Hartman, John was a member of L.A.'s influential The Groundlings improvisational group in the late-'70s, which is where the Pee-Wee Herman character was born. In addition to playing Jambi -- known for his magic words “Mekka Lekka Hi Mekka Hiney Ho” -- John also voiced Pterri the Pterodactyl, and he co-wrote the original Pee-wee Herman Show that ran at The Groundlings. That show was filmed for an 1981 HBO special, which led to movie Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and the Pee-Wee's Playhouse Saturday morning series. He wrote a number of Playhouse episodes and also co-wrote the Emmy-nominated Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special.
Reubens posted a heartfelt tribute to Paragon on instagram, writing about meeting at The Groundlings. "He was sly and wickedly funny. We became best friends instantly. In a group of exceptionally talented and funny people, he stuck out. Stood out."
"He contributed so heavily to my success," Reubens went on to say. "Over decades, we performed together, wrote together and hung out together. In our affection for one another (and our competitiveness), we made each other funnier. We felt magical together, and I think sometimes that translated into the work we created. When 'The Pee-wee Herman Show' was born, John had an idea about being a magic genie. A day later, he and I were driving along Hollywood Boulevard when I looked over and saw a sign for a sandwich shop named ‘Jambi’s’. From the time we were both starting out, through my success and fame as Pee-wee Herman, John was my closest friend. And through all of those years, we had huge amounts of fun and laughed our asses off together. I really loved him."
John, you'll be missed. Rest in peace, and Mekka Lekka Hi Mekka Hiney Ho.
Watch some clips of Jambi and Pterri below.