It was widely reported last night that John Paragon (b. 1954), the actor who played the genie Jambi on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, has passed on. The causes given were heart disease and alchohol abuse. The fact that he died on April 3 and it is only being reported now is possibly an indication of the state of his life of late. IMDB shows that his last screen credit was five years ago and that it has been a decade since he was last working regularly.
But as always, I like to to try to give the full measure of an artist when they pass, and Paragon was vastly more than a disembodied head in a box (though, let the indelibility of that image serve as an indication of its power, hence the sheer creativity of the guy who thought it up). Paragon was part of Paul Reubens Peewee stock company from the beginning, and he was not only a cast member, but also wrote and/or directed numerous episodes during its run (1986-90), and also supplied the voice of Pterry the Pterodactyl. Paragon and Ruebens had met while studying and performing with The Groundlings in the 1970s. He also worked extensively with fellow Groundlings alum Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) on her many tv shows, specials, films and live appearances. Paragon’s comedy skills got him supporting roles in such films as Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie (1980), Eating Raoul (1982), Pandemonium (1982), Airplane II: The Sequel (1982), Going Berzerk (1983), Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), Echo Park (1986), UHF (1989), Honey I Blew Up the Kid (1992), and Elvira’s Haunted Hills (2001), among others, and guest shots on TV shows like Cheers, Sledge Hammer!, Seinfeld, and Deep Space Nine. He also directed ten episodes of the crime drama Silk Stalkings (1996-98), His last credit was a walk-on in Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016). He was living in Palm Springs, Arizona at the time of his death.
Today, people of all ages will be saying the magic words: “Mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho. Mecca lecca hi, mecca chiney ho” and I hope they reach him in whatever enchanted land he currently resides. Thanks to Lecy Goranson, who worked with Reubens on Roseanne, for passing on the sad news,