'Tarzan' Chimp Star Death: Is It for Real?

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The AP originally reported that the chimpanzee who played Cheetah in the 1930s Tarzan movies died at the age of 80 from kidney failure at Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Fla.

But some believe this Cheetah is a cheat, and that the real ape died long ago.

"I'm afraid any chimp who actually shared a soundstage with Weissmuller and O'Sullivan is long gone," writer Richard Rosen told the AP in an email on Wednesday. Rosen debunked a previous claimant to the Cheetah legacy in 2008.

Debbie Cobb, outreach director at the Suncoast, defended the sanctuary's claim to be Cheetah's final resting place.

"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," she told the New York Times.

But she doesn't have any documentation to back up her claim to Cheetah fame.

"Unfortunately, there was a fire in '95 in which a lot of that documentation burned up," Cobb told the AP.

If the Cheetah who died at the sanctuary was indeed the real simian star of the silver screen, he was exceptionally old at 80. Most chimps live to between 40 and 60, though Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Fla., claims to have a chimp approximately 73 years old, according to the AP.

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The star of the Tarzan films, Olympic medalist Johnny Weissmuller died in 1984, also at age 80. Weissmuller and his sidekick, Cheetah, swung through such classic films as "Tarzan the Ape Man" (1932) and "Tarzan and His Mate" (1934). Maureen O' Sullivan rounded out the Tarzan triumvirate as Jane.

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The films were based on the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

IMAGES:

A Chimpanzee at the Knoxville Zoo. (Credit: Richard, Wikimedia Commons).

Maureen O'Sullivan and Johnny Weissmuller in "Tarzan's Secret Treasure." (Credit: MGM, Wikimedia Commons).