The Who2 Blog

Tarzan’s Cheetah Dies or Maybe Not

Cheetah, the chimpanzee co-star of 1930s Tarzan movies, has died at the age of 80.  Or maybe he was 82. And maybe he wasn’t really the same chimp from the movies. Still, he’s dead.

The first reports out of Florida were that Cheetah died of kidney failure on Christmas Eve, the 24th of December. The news accounts said Cheetah was the chimp who starred in popular Tarzan movies during the 1930s, the movies that starred Olympian Johnny Weissmuller as the King of the Apes.

But this is the modern age, and that means what you heard is maybe true, but maybe not, and even then, the not true might turn out to be really true, which later could turn out to be holy-cow, really not true.

An old chimpanzee in Florida is dead, that much has been established. The woman who runs the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida, says Cheetah had been a resident since at least 1960, and that Cheetah was the same chimp who starred in the movies of the 1930s.

A few hours after the reports of Cheetah’s death came the question: is it really the same chimp from the movies?

Let’s not forget the Cheeta-gate of 2008. Back then, the Washington Post reported at length on the story of “Cheeta,” the supposed star of those same Tarzan movies. The story concluded Cheeta couldn’t have been the same chimp as the one in the old movies.

Of course, most of us can’t remember human movie stars who are 80 years old, so it’s not a surprise that Cheetah would get lost in the mix. And it’s not as if it matters whether Florida’s Cheetah was a movie star, the people who knew him thought he was great.

And what is there to gain by claiming he was the Cheetah from the Tarzan movies?

I fondly remember the chimpanzee who played Cheetah in the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller. I saw several of those movies when I was a kid, and the chimp antics were always a highlight. I especially remember a water cooler scene from Tarzan’s New York Adventure, a movie I saw when I was about six years old. Now I realize the movie was 25 years old at the time.

Young adults around the world are saying the same thing about Bruce Willis and Die Hard right about now.

I guess what I’m saying is… aww, it’s a bummer that the old chimp in Florida died, and the story reminded me of good times, and I don’t care if it really was the same chimp, and I hope nobody is going to get all crazy-emotional thinking it was the same chimp.

Here’s a good piece from the U.K.’s Daily Mail (it even brings in Hillary Clinton), in which we learn details of Cheetah’s life, such as “he was soothed by non-denominational Christian music.”

Here’s Cheetah’s own blog, and fans (or not) can leave messages at the new Remembering Cheetah memorial site. Or go give a like or thumbs down or whatever at the Facebook page.

And here’s a news account from Palm Harbor, Florida.

R.I.P. Cheetah.

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