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Cheetah, Chimpanzee Star of Early ‘Tarzan’ Films, Dead at 80

The primate died of liver failure at a sanctuary in Florida

Cheetah, who played the chimpanzee sidekick in the early "Tarzan" films, died Saturday. It is estimated that he was 80 years old.

Cheetah died of liver failure at Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida. The chimp is regarded as one of the best-known animal actors in Hollywood history.

Cheetah was intended to provide comic relief in the "Tarzan" films. He appeared in the 1932-1934 installments, including "Tarzan the Ape Man" and "Tarzan and His Mate," which starred Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller as the titular character. Cheetah was succeeded by other apes who took on the role.

Also read: What 'Tarzan of the Apes' Wrought on Modern-Day Florida

Debbie Cobb, Suncoast Primate Sanctuary's outreach director, told The Tampa Tribune that Cheetah was the most well-known of the 15 chimpanzees at the sanctuary. He liked finger-painting and playing football.

"He wasn't a chimp that caused a lot of problems," she said of Cheetah, who had been at the sanctuary since 1960 and lived to be twice as old as most chimps in captivity. "He was very compassionate. He could tell if I was having a good day or a bad day. He was always trying to get me to laugh if he thought I was having a bad day. He was very in tune to human feelings."

A statement on Suncoast Primate Sanctuary's website read: "The sanctuary's residents and volunteers would like to thank all of the community members for their continued support as the sanctuary continues to expand on the legacy and foundation Cheetah continues to oversee as he watches over his supporters, friends, and family."

Apparently everyone wasn't a fan of Cheetah — so says Mia Farrow, daughter of Maureen O'Sullivan, who played Jane in the "Tarzan" movies.

"My mom … referred to Cheetah-the-chimp as 'that bastard' — saying he bit her at every opportunity," she tweeted Wednesday.

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