If Tarzan’s co-star had been human, it’s safe to assume that news of his demise would have been greeted with glowing tributes, a Hollywood funeral and perhaps a retrospective season of his greatest cinematic moments. As it was, the death of an 80-year-old chimpanzee called “Cheetah” was announced quietly by the Florida animal sanctuary where he had spent the past five decades in retirement. There was no grand send-off for the venerable Cheetah. Even his purported role as Johnny Weismuller’s regular primate sidekick remains shrouded in mystery. The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor claims the primate arrived there in 1960 and was donated by Weissmuller’s own estate. He is believed to have been born in 1930 or 1931 and was one of a number of chimpanzees whose owners vied to have recognized as the genuine movie-star Cheetah. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the original simian star of films such as 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man and 1934’s Tarzan and His Mate was probably a composite of several animals. According to the sanctuary, Cheetah was an outgoing chimp who loved humans. Yet like many Hollywood stars, he could also be temperamental. Sanctuary volunteer Ron Priest conceded the animal had a habit of throwing his feces when discontent. “When he didn’t like somebody or something that was going on, he would pick up some poop and throw it at them,” Priest said. “He could get you at 30 feet, with bars in between.”
One Hollywood star who did mark the potential star’s passing was actress Mia Farrow, whose mother, Maureen O’Sullivan, played Jane in six Tarzan movies. “My mom, who played Jane, invariably referred to Cheetah as ‘that bastard’,” said Farrow on her Twitter account.
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