Jeff Smith 6:35 p.m., June 27
Dig A Hole: Cheeta, Tarzan's Prime Mate
Cheeta, the most famous monkey ever to swing on Hollywood and Vine, is dead. Tarzan's tippling, chain-smoking sidekick was said to be 80.
The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbour, Florida where the great ape lived out his remaining years listening to Christian music and finger-painting, reports Cheeta (aka Cheetah, Cheta, and Chita) succumbed to kidney failure on Christmas Eve.
According to The Guinness Book of World Records, Cheeta was the oldest living non-human primate, but something is not right. This is not the same ape that starred opposite Johnny Weismuller in the Tarzan films from the '30s and '40's. It can't be! Cheeta was portrayed by a variety of animal actors, and not unlike Lassie, when one died he was replaced by another. Chances are this chimp hearkens back to the Lex Barker, Gordon Scott, or Ron Ely dynasty.
Hopefully this Wikipedia timeline can help sort things out.
The series took great delight in getting the animal drunk, a gag that never seemed to PETA out, especially when it came to providing much-needed comic relief.
Cheeta was one chimp blessed with an innate ability to ape the famous. (He was said to have been working on a Kim Jong Il impersonation at the time of his death.) Here is his dead-on impression of another world-renown fascist dictator, Adolf Hitler.
Not to be confused with Broadway "Birdie", Chita Rivera.
Sources close to the chimpanzee fault ageism in Hollywood for Cheeta's decline. The parts were no longer coming his way and according to a volunteer who spoke to The Daily Beast, the actor would frequently “pick up some poop and throw it,” probably in order to vent his frustration.
Cheeta receives the devastating call from his agent informing him the primates in Rise of the Planet of the Apes will be all computer generated.
In the end, no one cheats death, not even Cheeta. Rest in peace, you beloved simian scamp.
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