Cheetah, a chimpanzee who starred alongside Hall of Fame swimming legend Johnny Weissmuller in the Tarzan franchise films of the early 1930s, died on Saturday, December 17th. He had experienced kidney failure earlier that week, and was thought to be 80 years old.
He was also Weissmuller’s pet and companion in real life. Around 1960, after living on Weissmuller's estate, Cheetah retired to Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Fla.
Cheetah, also known as Cheetah-Mike, acted as Weissmuller’s comic sidekick "Cheeta" and was one of several chimpanzees who appeared in the Tarzan films of 1932 to 1934, with Johnny Weissmuller in the starring role of Tarzan and Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane.
"It is with great sadness that the community has lost a dear friend and family member," the sanctuary announced this week on its website. Chimpanzees live an average of 45 years in the wild, and captive chimps have an average lifespan of 60 years.
While at the sanctuary, Cheetah enjoyed listening to nondenominational Christian music and occasionally throwing poop when he was feeling disgruntled.
In a post on her Twitter account Mia Farrow, who is O’Sullivan’s daughter, wrote: “Cheetah the chimp in Tarzan movies died this week at 80. My mom, who played Jane, invariably referred to Cheetah as ‘that bastard.’ ” In a later post, she added that “he bit her at every opportunity.”
Johnny Weissmuller, who was ISHOF’ Founding Chairman of the Board, passed away on January 22, 1984 at the age of 79. While Weissmuller spoke few words on screen as Tarzan, one his most memorable lines in the films and in real life was “Cheetah, Come!” Perhaps he heard Johnny calling him from the grave.