Cheetah On His 77th Birthday In Retirement, With Photo
Of Weissmuller, Who Never Visited Him
The New York Times reports that Cheetah the Chimpanzee -- who, next to Rin-Tin-Tin, Lassie, 'Alf', and Puffy The Dog from There's Something About Mary, was one of Hollywood's most famous animal stars -- has died. He was at least 80 years old; twice the normal life span of normal Chimpanzees.
Cheetah played the comedy relief opposite Johnny Weissmuller in the "Tarzan" films (he did not, as some have reported, play the role of 'Bonzo' in the defining moment of Ronald Reagan's film career, "Bedtime For Bonzo"). Weissmuller, born in Austria-Hungary, emigrated to the U.S. to become the Mark Spitz of the 1920's, winning five Olympic gold medals in swimming and setting dozens of records before appearing in twelve Tarzan movies. Weissmuller died in 1984.
"Debbie Cobb, the outreach director at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Fla., where Cheetah lived," reported the Paper Of Record, "told The [Tampa, Fla.] Tribune that Cheetah was about 80 years old and died of kidney failure on Saturday."
In the Tarzan film series, whose golden age spanned 1932 to 1948, Cheetah was said to have appeared in the films made between 1932 and 1934, as a comic and sympathetic animal sidekick whose intelligence sometimes seemed to rival that of his human co-stars [former swimming star] Johnny Weissmuller (who played the titular jungle lord) and Maureen O’Sullivan (who portrayed his civilized love interest, Jane).
Cheetah had, in fact, been living with Weissmuller until 1960, when he was transferred to the Primate Sanctuary. Of some 15 chimpanzees kept at the sanctuary, Cheetah, Cobb reported, was "the most famous and an outgoing ape with a gentle personality, who had long outlived the 35 to 45 years that chimpanzees typically survive in captivity."
“He was very compassionate,” Ms. Cobb said. “He could tell if I was having a good day or a bad day. He was always trying to get me to laugh if he thought I was having a bad day. He was very in tune to human feelings.”The Times also reported that actress Mia Farrow, the daughter of Maureen O’Sullivan (they performed opposite each other as a mother and daughter in Woody Allen's 'Hannah And Her Sisters'), has gotten more or less the last word on the Great Ape, posting a comment on her Twitter page: “Cheetah the chimp in Tarzan movies died this week at 80. My mom, who played Jane, invariably referred to Cheetah as ‘that bastard.’ ”
Word Of Cheetah's Passing Was Met With Spontaneous Public
Demonstrations Of Grief In Asia, Where 'Tarzan' Films Are
Still Cherished (Photo: NHKNot)
She said Cheetah was soothed by Christian music and also enjoyed fingerpainting and football, though she was unsure if the chimpanzee had any favorite teams.
Cheetah's real name is unknown. He leaves behind him no children, but a number of finger paintings, and a rich treasury of film memories.
Meanwhile, in other news: The head of Iran's navy announced during ten days of Iranian war games in the Persian Gulf that it would be "Like drinking a glass of water" to close the Straits of Hormuz to oil traffic. Today the commander of the United States' Fifth Fleet in the same region announced that the world "would not tolerate" a closure of the Gulf to shipping.
Noch Einmal Mit Mehr: Apparently, questions have been raised as to whether the claims of the Florida primate sanctuary -- that the Chimp which died Saturday was in fact the Cheetah -- are true.
The sanctuary set off a stampede of news media coverage when it announced the death of a chimpanzee there over the weekend named Cheetah, who, the sanctuary said, appeared with Johnny Weissmuller in films like “Tarzan the Ape Man” (released in 1932) and “Tarzan and His Mate” (from 1934).
Ms. [Debbie] Cobb, 51 [outreach director of the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary], said that she had known Cheetah all her life and that he was born in 1929 or 1930. She said he had been brought to the sanctuary by her grandparents, who received him in the 1960s when Weissmuller’s estate “was being dispersed.” [Note: Johnny Weissmuller died in 1984]
“My grandparents picked these animals up,” Ms. Cobb said. “It wasn’t like you called a hauling company to go pick up a full-grown male chimp.”
Though the nearby Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Fla., is home to a female chimpanzee named Little Mama who is in her 70s, some zoologists believe such animals are not representative of typical lifespans in captivity.
Ms. Cobb said that her sanctuary planned to post brochures from the 1950s and ’60s on its Web site that would show that its Cheetah had appeared in the Tarzan movies, and that the announcement of his death was not a “marketing ploy.”
“We have nothing to prove,” [Cobb] said. “It cracks me up how ignorant some people are, but I think that causes controversy, and isn’t that what it’s all about? I mean, really. I think people like controversy. These are real living beings to us here. These are relationships. We don’t care if it’s in the media or not.”
Meanwhile, Grieving Crowds In Asia Continue Mourning
Publicly For The Great Chimp. More Or Less.