John Paragon, an actor, director and writer most familiar from his disembodied, teal-faced role of Jambi the Genie on Paul Reubens’ Pee-wee’s Playhouse, died April 3 in Palm Springs of unknown causes. He was 66.
Paragon’s death, only recently made public, was confirmed to Deadline by the Riverside County Coroner.
In addition to his work with frequent collaborator Reubens — he also voiced Pterri the Pterodactyl on Playhouse — Paragon is remembered by Seinfeld fans as Cedric, half of the couple Bob and Cedric who appeared occasionally to browbeat Michael Richards’ Kramer. In the famous episode “The Soup Nazi,” Paragon and actor Yul Vazquez, as Bob, stole an armoire that Kramer was guarding for Elaine (Julia-Louis Dreyfus).
Paragon was, like Reubens, a member of the Los Angeles comedy troupe the Groundlings, and contributed to the writing of early stage performances featuring the Pee-wee Herman character. The Jambi character carried over from the stage act to the CBS Saturday morning Playhouse, though in a much toned-down, kid-friendlier portrayal. The character was best known for his catchphrase, the magical incantation “Mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho!”
Paragon, born in Alaska, also wrote and directed many episodes of the 1986-90 series.
His Groundlings background provided Paragon with another successful collaborator: Cassandra “Elvira” Peterson. Paragon wrote the film Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988) and wrote and produced various Elvira TV projects. He also voiced the off-screen “Breather” who bedeviled Elvira.
As an actor, Paragon made appearances in such films as Eating Raoul (1982), Echo Park (1985), UHF (1989) and Honey, I Blew Up The Kid (1992), as well as the TV series Cheers, Sledge Hammer!, Night Stand and, from 1995-98, three episodes of Seinfeld (“The Soup Nazi,” “The Sponge” and “The Puerto Rican Day”).
His directing credits include Silk Stalkings and Pacific Blue, among others.
On Broadway, Paragon reprised Jambi the Genie for Reubens’ The Pee-wee Herman Show in 2010.