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Tarzan co-star Cheetah dies at Palm Harbor sanctuary

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 01:17 PM

Cheetah the chimpanzee, who acted in classic Tarzan movies in the early 1930s, died of kidney failure Saturday at Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, a sanctuary spokeswoman said.

Cheetah was roughly 80 years old, loved fingerpainting and football and was soothed by nondenominational Christian music, said Debbie Cobb, the sanctuary's outreach director.

He was an outgoing chimp who was exposed to the public his whole life, Cobb said today.

"He wasn't a chimp that caused a lot of problems," she said.

Cheetah acted in the 1932-34 Tarzan movies, Cobb said. Movies filmed during that timeframe starred Johnny Weissmuller and include "Tarzan and His Mate" and "Tarzan the Ape Man," according to the Internet Movie Database.

Sometime around 1960, Cheetah came to the sanctuary from Weissmuller's estate in Ocala, Cobb said.

In the wild, the average chimp survives 25 to 35 years and at zoos chimps typically live 35 to 45 years, she said.

Cheetah, the most famous of the sanctuary's 15 chimpanzees, liked to see people laugh.

"He was very compassionate," Cobb said. "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."

Ron Priest, a sanctuary volunteer for seven years, said Cheetah stood out because of his ability to stand up – shoulders tall, back straight – and walk like a person.

Cheetah also stood out for another reason, Priest said: "When he didn't like somebody or something that was going on, he would pick up some poop and throw it at them. He could get you at 30 feet with bars in between."

It doesn't appear Cheetah had any children, Cobb said.

Cheetah put a lot of thought into his art, though if he was tired he would give up easily and not play with it much.

He wasn't into watching animal shows on television, but he enjoyed watching all the color and movement when football appeared on screen. Cobb wasn't aware of whether Cheetah had any favorite teams.

"I couldn't ask him that," she said. "I'm not a chimp psychic."


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