Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan, Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane, and Cheetah the chimpanzee, in a scene from the 1932 movie “Tarzan the Ape Man.” (AP)

Update No. 2

Suncoast Primate Sanctuary director Debbie Cobb has defended Cheetah to the New York Times, saying, “We have nothing to prove. ... It cracks me up how ignorant some people are, but I think that causes controversy, and isn’t that what it’s all about? I mean, really. I think people like controversy. These are real living beings to us here. These are relationships. We don’t care if it’s in the media or not.”


According to the Associated Press, there are some doubts as to whether this Florida primate in fact played second banana to Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan in the 1930s “Tarzan” films.

Some Hollywood accounts, the AP said, indicate that another chimp played the role in the early years. Also, a 2008 Washington Post Magazine piece, by writer R.D. Rosen, debunked a similar claim about yet another chimp.

Debbie Cobb of the Florida sanctuary said her grandparents bought the chimp from Weissmuller in 1960 but said any documentation had been destroyed in a 1995 fire.

In an e-mail Wednesday to the AP, Rosen said, “I’m afraid any chimp who actually shared a sound stage with Weissmuller and [Maureen] O’Sullivan is long gone.”

At 80, Cheetah would have been one of the oldest chimps in the world.

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

Original post below

Cheetah, a chimpanzee who starred in Tarzan films during the early 1930s, died Saturday of kidney failure, the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary announced on its Web site. He was 80.

Debbie Cobb, the sanctuary’s outreach director, told the Tampa Tribune that Cheetah was outgoing and compassionate, and loved fingerpainting and football. When upset by someone or something, he showed his displeasure by throwing his feces, a sanctuary volunteer told the Tribune.

Cheetah starred alongside Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan films from 1932 to 1934, according to Cobb. He most likely shared the role, “depending on what talents the scene called for,” according to author R.D. Rosen in a 2008 Washington Post Magazine piece about the most famous Cheetah.

He moved to the sanctuary from the Weissmuller estate around 1960, according to Cobb.