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Movie star Cheetah the chimpanzee dies at 80

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 29th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

He was one of the few movies stars of the 1930s that made it into the 21st century - it must have been an awful lot of bananas! Cheetah the chimpanzee, the sidekick in the Tarzan movies of the early 1930s has died at age 80, a Florida animal sanctuary said.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor announced that Cheetah died Christmas Eve of kidney failure.

Sanctuary director Debbie Cobb on Wednesday told newspaper reporters that Cheetah was outgoing, loved finger painting and liked to see people laugh, seemingly attuned to human feelings.

"He was very compassionate," 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 character of Cheetah was often the comic relief in the Tarzan series starring American Olympic gold medal swimmer Weissmuller.

The Tarzan series is based on the works of British author Edgar Rice Burroughs. Spawning countless books and films over the years, Tarzan chronicles the adventures of a man who was raised by apes in Africa.

Cheetah was the comic relief in the earliest Tarzan films, which starred American Olympic gold medal swimmer Johnny Weissmuller. Cobb said Cheetah came to the sanctuary from Weissmuller's estate sometime around 1960.

Although Cheetah wasn't a troublemaker, sanctuary volunteer Ron Priest said that like most chimpanzees, if he didn't get his way, he would throw feces.

"When he didn't like somebody or something that was going on, he would pick up some poop and throw it at them. He could get you at 30ft with bars in between."

The chimp was unusually long-lived, surviving beyond both Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan, who played Tarzan's mate Jane. Chimpanzees only live an average of 35 to 45 years in captivity. Guinness World Records had cited Cheetah as the world's oldest non-human primate.

Many chimpanzees have come and gone playing Tarzan's simian sidekick over the franchise's long run in both films and television. The Cheetah who died is not the one who appeared in the first two Weissmuller films, "Tarzan the Ape Man" (1932) and "Tarzan and His Mate" (1934), but is thought to have played the role in the 1930s and '40s.

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