Goodbye Cheetah: Tarzan's sidekick – or fraud of the jungle?

Hollywood mourns Cheetah the chimpanzee. But could a chimp have lived to the age of 80?

A A A

He had a difficult relationship with several of his Hollywood co-stars, biting some of them and throwing his own faeces at others. But 1930s cinema audiences were thrilled by Cheetah the chimpanzee, the sidekick to Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan, whose death on Christmas Eve was announced yesterday.

The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Florida, where he was enjoying his retirement, reported "with great sadness" that Cheetah died from kidney failure at the age of 80.

The community had "lost a dear friend and family member", it added.

The chimp starred in Tarzan and His Mate in 1932 and Tarzan the Ape Man, two years later. He appeared alongside former Olympic swimmer Weissmuller, who died in 1984, and Maureen O'Sullivan, mother of Mia Farrow, who died in 1998.

However, doubt was immediately cast on whether he was in fact Cheetah the film star, with primate specialists pointing out that chimps held in captivity rarely live beyond 50.

Dr Alison Cronin, director of Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre in Dorset, said: "There is an awful lot of speculation about Cheetah and whether it is the right one. I don't believe it." She said most chimps in the wild only lived into their 30s. "When they get old they really look it. The one I saw did not look 80." Others speculated that several different chimps were used in the 1930s films.

Suncoast's outreach director Debbie Cobb said Cheetah had loved finger painting and American football, enjoyed making people laugh and was "very in tune to human feelings". The ape arrived at the sanctuary in about 1960, coming from Weissmuller's estate, Ms Cobb claimed. "He was very compassionate. 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," she told the Tampa Tribune.

However, sanctuary volunteer Ron Priest said that when he did not like somebody or something "he would pick up some poop and throw it at them", adding: "He could get you at 30 feet, with bars in between."

Mia Farrow wrote on Twitter that her mother had invariably referred to Cheetah as "that bastard" due to his habit of biting her.

Whether this was the real Cheetah or not, tributes to the primate poured in yesterday. John Mackay said: "You always made us laugh at your antics and be sad when you were sad. You will live forever in our hearts." Helene from Virginia said she "grew up watching the Tarzan movies with Cheetah. Cheetah made all us children smile and laugh."

Yet there is a dark side to using chimps in entertainment. Dr Cronin said that the fame of Cheetah and Michael Jackson's chimp Bubbles had fuelled a world smuggling trade in the animals.

"Almost all chimps in Monkey World have been rescued from some form of entertainment," she said.

Me Cheeta: In his 'own' words

In 2008 James Lever wrote Me Cheeta, the ape's "autobiography" and a behind-the-scenes romp through Hollywood's Golden Age:

On Johnny Weissmuller "I remember we were both up for the role of Terry in On the Waterfront and the casting director told Johnny he was wasting his time. I got a callback but it came to nothing."

On Maureen O'Sullivan "She couldn't even act affection for animals, although, to be wholly honest and give the harmless old trout her due, it was probably just me she disliked."

On fame "Picture a human and a chimpanzee facing each other in awkward silence... the faint inanity of the interaction stealing over both of them. That's what fame is."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition