John Paragon, best known for his role as Jambi the Genie on the television series “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” has died. He was 66.
Paragon died in his residence in Palm Springs, Calif. on April 3, according to a press release from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. A representative for the Sheriff’s Department confirmed to Variety that Paragon’s cause of death was heart disease and chronic alcohol abuse.
Born in Anchorage, Alaska on Dec. 9, 1954, Paragon got his start in show business as part of the L.A.-based improv group The Groundlings, where he worked alongside comics Paul Reubens and Phil Hartman. In 1986, Paragon reunited with Reubens on his Saturday morning children’s show “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” in which Paragon portrayed the teal-faced Jambi the Genie and provided the voice for Pterri. In addition to his role on the series, Paragon also wrote 24 regular season episodes and co-wrote its 1988 Christmas special with Reubens, which earned them a daytime Emmy nomination that same year.
Paragon’s other roles include “Eating Raoul” in 1982, “Echo Park” in 1985, the titular character in “The Frog Prince,” “Cheers,” a recurring role as Cedric on “Seinfeld,” “The Elvira Show” and “Elvira’s Movie Macabre.” In 2011, Paragon reprised his role as Jambi the Genie in the television movie “The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway,” and voiced Pterri in a skit on “Saturday Night Live” that same year.
Paragon also worked with Disney Imagineering to develop ways to incorporate improv into theme park attractions. He particularly worked on Lucky the Dinosaur, the first free-roaming audio-animatronic figure ever introduced to Disney parks.