Weissmuller's "Tarzan" chimp sidekick dies in Florida

Wed Dec 28, 2011 1:48pm EST
 
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Cheetah the Chimp, co-star of the 1930s "Tarzan" films with Johnny Weissmuller and one of the world's oldest chimpanzees, has died in Florida. He was thought to be about 80 years old.

The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary Foundation in Florida, where Cheetah spent his retirement days, said the chimp died on December 24 from kidney failure.

"It is with great sadness that the community has lost a dear friend and family member on December 24, 2011. Cheetah, star of the Tarzan films, passed away after kidney failure," the Sanctuary said on its website.

Cheetah was a character devised for the "Tarzan" films as a sidekick to the jungle hero, providing comic relief. The role was played by Cheetah and several other primates over the years.

Cheetah came to the Suncoast sanctuary around 1960 from Weissmuller's Florida estate, spokeswoman Debbie Cobb told The Tampa Tribune newspaper. Cobb said he appeared in the 1932-34 "Tarzan" movies and that he was thought to be about 80 years old.

Actress Mia Farrow, whose mother Maureen O'Sullivan played Jane to Weissmuller's Tarzan, posted a tweet on hearing of Cheetah's death, saying; "My mom, Tarzan's Jane, referred to Cheetah-the-chimp as 'that bastard' - saying he bit her at every opportunity. Cheetah lived to be 80."

The average chimpanzee is thought to live for 40 to 45 years in the wild and about 10 years longer in captivity.

Fans of the "Tarzan" chimpanzee have been petitioning over the last few years for the primate to be honored with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, in a campaign called Go Cheeta.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Jill Serjeant)