Cheetah, Alleged Primate Actor from 'Tarzan' Films, Dies

Cheetah Tarzan Chimp 1934 - P 2011
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Cheetah Tarzan Chimp 1934 - P 2011

UPDATED: The chimpanzee, who was reportedly 80 at his time of death, is said to have appeared in the early 1930s installments of the famous franchise.

One of the most famous animal actors in Hollywood history is gone.

Cheetah, said to be the chimpanzee sidekick from Tarzan films, died of kidney failure over the weekend at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida. The Tampa Tribune reports that he was roughly 80 years old.

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Hardly the only primate to take on the iconic role, Cheetah probably received the most exposure. He appeared in the 1932-1934 installments of the franchise, at the beginning of its heyday when Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller took over the title role.

In addition to having the distinction of being famous, Cheetah's longevity was one of his greatest accomplishments. Suncoast outreach director Debbie Cobb noted that chimpanzees generally live between 35 to 45 years in captivity, and only 25 to 35 years in the wild.

She also spoke highly of his character.

"He was very compassionate," Cobb told the Tampa 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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Cheetah moved to the sanctuary around 1960, where he remained the most famous of its primate residents until his death. His interests included finger-painting, watching football and nondenominational Christian music.

Among Cheetah's Tarzan features were Tarzan and His Mate and Tarzan the Ape Man, where he starred alongside Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan, who played "Jane."

O’Sullivan’s daughter, actress Mia Farrow, reacted to Cheetah's passing on her Twitter account, painting a less flattering portrait than Cobb.

"My mom, Tarzan's Jane, referred to Cheetah-the-chimp as 'that bastard,'" she wrote, "saying he bit her at every opportunity."