‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse’ star John Paragon dead at 66


Let us all say a prayer for Jambi: “Meka leka hi meka hiney ho.

John Paragon, the veteran actor who played the blue-faced genie Jambi on “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” has died. He was 66.

Paragon passed away in April, although the cause of death has not been revealed, according to the coroner’s office in Riverside County, California, TMZ confirmed.

From 1986 to 1991, Paragon appeared on the Emmy-nominated “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” as Jambi the Genie, whose painted blue face and ornamented red turban sat disembodied in a bedazzled box, which was prompted to open anytime Pee-wee Herman (Paul Ruebens) wanted to make a wish. And with each wish, Jambi would chant the iconic magic words: “Meka leka hi meka hiney ho.”

Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) and Jambi the Genie (John Paragon)
John Paragon played the blue-faced genie Jambi on “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”
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Born in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1954, Paragon got his big break as a member of the groundbreaking Groundlings Improv Group — and in recent years he “worked with Walt Disney Imagineering on ways to incorporate improvisational performance into attractions at Disney parks,” according to his official bio.

Paragon also voiced the recurring “Pee-wee’s” character Pterri the Pterodactyl — and when he wasn’t acting on “Playhouse,” he was known to have written several episodes alongside Reubens, including the “Pee-wee’s Playhouse: Christmas Special” in 1988, which won the series an Emmy nomination for Best Writing in a Children’s Special.

In the same year, he co-wrote “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark” with Elvira herself, aka fellow Groundlings veteran Cassandra Peterson.

Pee-wee Herman and Pterri the Pterodactyl on "Pee-wee's Playhouse."
John Paragon also voiced the puppet Pterri the Pterodactyl on “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”
©CBS/Courtesy Everett Collectio

Paragon also appeared in a number of feature films through the 1980s, including “The Frog Prince” (1986), Weird Al Yankovic’s “UHF” (1989), and the cult cannibalism classic “Eating Raoul” (1982), and was later seen making cameos on “Seinfeld.”

John Paragon applying make-up as Jambi the Genie
John Paragon had several writing credits for “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” earning him an Emmy nomination for Best Writing in a Children’s Special in 1988.
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Paragon’s past colleagues, friends and fans have taken to social media to remember the inimitable comedian.

“I am sooo sad. This is terrible news,” wrote former “Saturday Night Live” star Julia Sweeney. “I didn’t know him well, but I admired him greatly & he was deeply loved by so many whom I know well. So many laughs. Sad for The Groundlings. Sad for comedy. Very sad day. RIP John Paragon. 💔”

Despite “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” signing off three decades ago, the legend of Jambi lives on with kids today.

Said one proud parent, “After spending nearly a year teaching my #PeeWeesPlayhouse obsessed child inside of a Jambi’s box — I’m very weepy after learning of John Paragon’s passing. Jambi (and Pterri) have been incredible forces in our lives and we’ll love them always!”

Actor and “Mad TV” comedian Phil LaMarr added that he was “shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of the amazingly talented John Paragon.”

“Ramon Azteca, Jambi the Genie, Mr. Excitement, The Breather, The Paragon of Comedy, Groundling, improviser, writer, performer, producer he did it all — and brilliantly,” LaMarr concluded.

As Paragon’s most famous character would say, “Long live Jambi!”

John Paragon posed next to a painting of Jambi the Genie in 2014
John Paragon, seen here in 2014, had been working with Walt Disney Imagineering prior to his passing, to devise improv performances for Disney theme parks.
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