We’ve lost some big stars in 2011, and with only a few days left before we flip the calendars to start a new year, one more talent joins the ranks of those who’ve passed on: Tarzan’s faithful companion, Cheetah.
Arguably the most famous chimp in all of Hollywood, Cheetah starred alongside Johnny Weismuller in a series of Tarzan films shot during the 1930s and ‘40s. After his Hollywood career was over, the chimp spent his days at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida. He passed away from kidney failure on Christmas Eve.
Cheetah was famous not only for appearing as the ape-man’s loyal sidekick in the films, but also for his longevity. While the average chimp lives to roughly 35 years of age in captivity, Cheetah was 80 at the time of his passing – which got him into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest non-human primate. Caretakers at the sanctuary report that Cheetah loved fingerpainting, but wasn’t above flinging his feces around when he was upset.
All told, Cheetah appeared in 12 Tarzan films with Weismuller between 1932 and 1948. His Hollywood legacy was not without controversy, though – as a few years ago the owner of another chimp claimed that animal was the co-star. That dispute was soon settled, when research proved the claims false. In today's Hollywood, there'd likely be little room for a real animal co-star -- producers and directors would most likely create a CGI monkey to appear alongside a modern day Tarzan -- but as Cheetah proved, a real chimp brought a lot of things to the table that a computer-generated animal wouldn't.
Godspeed, Cheetah. Here’s to hoping your swinging from the trees in that great jungle in the sky.