The chimpanzee that originated the role of Cheetah in the Tarzan adventure films of the 1930s died Saturday of kidney failure at age 80, outliving his co-star Johnny Weissmuller. Chimpanzees typically live just 35 to 45 years in captivity.
According to The Tampa Tribune, Cheetah was given by the Weissmuller estate in 1960 to the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida, where he lived out his last decades fingerpainting, playing football and listening to “nondenominational Christian music.”
Cheetah debuted in 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man opposite Olympic gold medalist Weissmuller as the lord of the jungle and actress Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane, reuniting with the duo two years later in Tarzan and His Mate.
O’Sullivan’s daughter, actress Mia Farrow, wrote this morning on Twitter: “Cheetah the chimp in Tarzan movies died this week at 80. My mom, who played Jane, invariably referred to Cheetah as ‘that bastard.'”
However, Debbie Cobb, the sanctuary’s outreach director, had kinder words for Cheetah.
“He was very compassionate,” she told the Tribune. “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.”
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