John Christian Hopkins
It’s not often that a major Hollywood star passes on quietly, but that is how it seemed to be for Cheetah, the erstwhile chimp of the old Tarzan movies.
He came from humble beginnings. He wasn’t planned; his parents were just monkeying around. His mother was a tree hugger and his dad was thought to have been a rebel gorilla leader.
His big break came when he was spotted eating a banana and a talent scout thought they both had appeal.
Good fortune smiled on the chimp champ. Movies were still silent and that enabled him to learn his craft without having to talk. He soon scored blockbuster success, starring with Douglas Fairbanks in “The Tree Musketeers” and with John Barrymore in “Moby Duck.”
And then came Tarzan. Cheetah was catapulted into Hollywood animal royalty, earning a banana on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame right beside Charlie Chimplin’s.
Along with success came the usual pitfalls of fame. He stayed out partying all night with his Tarzan co-star and both gained reputations as swingers. Then Cheetah started putting things up his nose.
Not drugs, mind you; but termites and grubs. It was a quick downward spiral.
On top of that, talkies came along and it looked like Cheetah’s days in the spotlight were over.
Few knew that Cheetah was dyslexic and, ironically, it was this that resurrected his career. A friend left him a note telling Cheetah to meet him at the opera, but instead the chimp went to see Oprah.
She taught him on to enunciate on camera and Cheetah was ready to try his hand in the talkies.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Who can forget his closing line in “Gone With the Wind,” when Scarlett says, “Oh, Rhett, where will I go, what will I do?”
And he replies, “Eeee hee wooo wooo!”
Box office gold.
Cheetah won his only Academy Award when he dressed up in drag and co-starred with Humphrey Bogart in “The African Queen.” He was offered a role in “The Wizard of Oz,” but was afraid of flying.
He was on top again. His life became tabloid fodder and he was linked to Hollywood’s biggest animal starlets, like Llama Turner, Natalie Woodpecker and Whoopi Goldfish.
He was married sixteen times, but it never worked out.
“He was a serial Cheetah,” said ex-wife number eight, and fourteen Kim Kardaschund. “He left me to run off with a bunch of Chiquitas!”
His career began to fade as his last films failed to catch on; films like “Dances With Dingoes,” “The Chimpfather” and “Star Trek: The Wrath of Kong.”
In one final desperate attempt to recapture his past glory Cheetah agreed to pose for Hugh Heiffer’s “Playchimp” magazine.
“It was a success,” Heiffer said. “It even outsold the ‘Betty White at 100’ issue!”
And Cheetah gave the world one last catch-phrase: “Once you go chimp, you never go limp!”