Was it really Cheetah the Chimp of ‘Tarzan’ fame that died?

By Daniel S Levine,
Almost immediately after the chimp's death was announced, the chimp's true identity came into question

The death of Cheetah the Chimp is now being called into question. The chimp’s death was announced Wednesday, but now Hollywood is beginning to wonder if the chimp, which the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, FL claimed was 80-years-old, really acted alongside Johnny Weissmuller in the first two Tarzan movies that were made in the early 1930s.

Debbie Cobb, outreach director at the sanctuary, had made the announcement to the media, but did not offer any paperwork to prove the claim. "Unfortunately, there was a fire in '95 in which a lot of that documentation burned up," Cobb told The Associated Press. She added that she is 51-years-old and that she has remembered being around the chimp for all of her 51 years.

However, several film historians and others are refuting the claim. "The idea that this Cheetah could have appeared in these films, had this long career, and now had this wonderful retirement is ridiculous,” writer R.D. Ross told USA Today. Ross had actually debunked another claim in 2008 in a Washington Post story.

Steve Ross, a chimpanzee expert at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, told USA Today that it is highly unlikely that the chimp could possibly be 80-years-old and that the real record-holder for the longest-living chimp is in her 70s.

Eve Golden, a film historian at Hollywood’s Everett Collection, told The Telegraph that there is no paperwork to prove that the particular chimp had done any work in the film industry, calling the claim an “urban legend. Unless they have the chimpanzee’s acting union card it seems impossible to prove,” she said.

According to the AP, Hollywood records show that a chimp known as Jiggs or Mr. Jiggs was the real chimp that played with Weissmuller. Accounts show that that chimp had died back in 1938.

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