Legendary Chimp Cheetah of ‘Tarzan’ Films Dies at 80

Simian star Cheetah with Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan in "Tarzan" (Getty Images)

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — A Florida animal sanctuary says Cheetah the chimpanzee sidekick in the Tarzan movies of the early 1930s has died at age 80.

The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor announced that Cheetah died Dec. 24 of kidney failure.

Sanctuary outreach director Debbie Cobb on Wednesday told The Tampa Tribune that Cheetah was outgoing, loved finger-painting and liked to see people laugh. She says he seemed to be tuned into human feelings.

Based on the works of author Edgar Rice Burroughs, the Tarzan stories, which have spawned scores of books and films over the years, chronicle the adventures of a man who was raised by apes in Africa.

Cheetah was the comic relief in the Tarzan films that starred American Olympic gold medal swimmer Johnny Weissmuller and have aired for decades on TV. Cobb says Cheetah came to the sanctuary from Weissmuller’s estate sometime around 1960.

Watch Cheetah in this clip for “Tarzan the Ape Man” in 1932:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/movies/Tarzan%2C-the-Ape-Man/100284/858010860/Tarzan-The-Ape-Man/embed 580 476]
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