CORRECTION: In Hollywood, even the animals lie about their age (Cheeta, the chimp, was [likely] not 80)

Cheetah the 1930s Tarzan chimp dies aged 80 – but was he the real star and even that old?

One of Hollywood’s most famous animals, Cheetah the chimpanzee from the Tarzan movies of the early 1930s, has died aged 80.

The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida, revealed today the chimp believed to be the iconic simian star of the golden age of film died on Christmas Eve of kidney failure.

It is claimed he outlived both of his co-stars Johnny Weissmuller, who died in 1984 aged 79, and Maureen O’Sullivan, who played Tarzan’s mate Jane and who died aged 87 in 1998.

Tip: @DoctorAtlantis on Twitter

When I heard this story this morning, two things popped into my head. First, an 80yr old chimp? I’m skeptical. And, second, who the heck cares? I didn’t. Why make a big deal about an animal actor that lived a better life than most humans on earth EVER will. Yes, I was sort of in that kind of mood this morning.

See update below…

Then comes the truth that the Cheeta/Cheetah story is a fraud. Like so much in Hollywood, it was a ruse, a game that was played. See this article from the Washington Post – The Lie of the Jungle, and remember, most of what you hear is untrue. Hard to tell what is.

“Unfortunately, it’s Hollywood, and people do exaggerate,” said Raffill.

“Why do you think he did it?” I asked.

“Because it made him feel good!” said Shawver. “You tell stories, people talk to you, you get visitors, you get company. People want to hear that story. Whether it’s true or not, they like it.”

UPDATE : UGH! I should have been alerted to the fact that since the names were spelled differently, something was amiss…

This is confusing… starting with the names Cheetah vs Cheeta.

According to Wikipedia there is the subject of the death today:

Cheetah-Mike, a male chimpanzee owned by Suncoast Primate Sanctuary after being donated from Noell’s Chimp Farm in Palm Harbor, FL. Alleged to have been born about 1931 (claimed age in February 2008 was 77), to have been acquired from the estate of Johnny Weissmuller in 1957, and to have been “one of the original ‘Cheetahs’ from Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan movies.” Died in Palm Harbor, Florida, of kidney failure on December 24, 2011.

Then there is the Rosen debunked chimp:

Cheeta, a male chimpanzee born about 1960, formerly owned by Tony Gentry and now residing at the C.H.E.E.T.A. Primate Sanctuary (Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes) in Palm Springs, California. Claimed by Gentry to have been born in 1932 or later in the 1930s and to have portrayed Cheeta in most of the Johnny Weismuller and Lex Barker Tarzan films, and for that reason long celebrated as the longest-lived chimpanzee. Both claims were debunked by journalist R. D. Rosen in 2008 in an article that settled the animal’s true age and established that he had not appeared in any movies, let alone in the role of Cheeta.

So, Cheeta is still alive but Cheetah (Mike) is dead. Neither is likely as old as they say they are/were. But, wow, this is giving me a headache. I can’t believe I spent time on this. Oops.

UPDATE (29-Dec): From the NY Times.  In Cheetah Mystery, Florida Sanctuary Stands by Its Chimp Owner says she has nothing to prove. Uh, yeah, you kind of do, making a claim like that. And you haven’t.