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Cheetah the chimp from 1930s Tarzan flicks dies

Cheetah, the chimpanzee sidekick in the Tarzan movies of the early 1930s, has died at age 80, a Florida animal sanctuary said.

The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor announced that Cheetah died Dec. 24 of kidney failure.

Sanctuary outreach director Debbie Cobb on Wednesday told The Tampa Tribune that Cheetah was outgoing, loved finger painting, and liked to see people laugh. She said he seemed to be attuned to human feelings.

Based on the works of author Edgar Rice Burroughs, the Tarzan stories, which have spawned scores of books and films over the years, chronicle the adventures of a man who was raised by apes in Africa.

Cheetah was the comic relief in the earliest Tarzan films, which starred American Olympic gold medal swimmer Johnny Weissmuller. Cobb said Cheetah came to the sanctuary from Weissmuller's estate sometime around 1960.

Cobb said Cheetah wasn't a troublemaker. Still, sanctuary volunteer Ron Priest said that when the chimp didn't like what was going on, he would throw feces.

The chimp was unusually long-lived, surviving beyond both Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan, who played Tarzan’s mate Jane in many of the early films. Chimpanzees live an average of 35 to 45 years in captivity. Guinness World Records cited Cheetah as the world’s oldest non-human primate.

Many chimpanzees have played Tarzan’s simian sidekick over the franchise’s long run in both films and television. The Cheetah who died Dec. 24 is not the one who appeared in the first two Weissmuller films, “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932) and “Tarzan and His Mate” (1934), but is thought to have played the role in the 1930s and ’40s.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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