SPRINGS, Calif. --
the chimpanzee celebrated his 74th birthday
Sunday in true Hollywood fashion -- accepting an
award before an adoring entourage and possibly
Like many Hollywood
stars, Cheeta, who starred in a dozen "Tarzan"
films in the 1930s and 1940s, retired to the
desert hamlet of Palm Springs. Cheeta is the
world's oldest chimp, according to the Guinness
Book of World Records. Chimpanzees rarely live
past their 40s in the wild but often live until
their 60s in captivity.
After his last performance
opposite Rex Harrison in 1967's "Dr. Doolittle,"
Cheeta retired in his 30s when Hollywood seemed
to want only young apes. Since then, Cheeta has
been enjoying a quiet retirement.
"He loves going for
rides, watching TV and, of course, monkeying
around," said keeper and friend Dan Westfall.
"He likes hanging out in the house with me. He's
just my buddy."
Cheeta also keeps close to
his family. His 17-year-old grandson, Jeeter,
also lives with him.
Cheeta, like Anthony
Quinn, took some time off from acting to paint.
Two of his "ape-stract" paintings adorned the
National Museum in London, and others hang in
the homes of celebrities. Cheeta uses the money
from the paintings to pay for his upkeep (he
never qualified for a Screen Actors Guild
pension) and help out the nonprofit primate
sanctuary, Westfall said.
He also has a bit of a
"Oh, he likes
everything and lots of it," Westfall said."But
he still has every tooth in his head."
In his younger days,
Cheeta was known for his affection for beer and
cigars but the years of Hollywood excess have
taken a toll. Now a diabetic and on a special
diet of fresh fruit, vegetables and monkey chow,
he also takes insulin every day, Westfall said.
His birthday cake was diabetic-friendly.
Cheeta lives at the
Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered
and Threatened Apes (CHEETA) Primate Sanctuary
in Palm Springs, run by Westfall.
Westfall inherited Cheeta
in 1989 from his uncle Tony Gentry, an animal
trainer who originally found Cheeta in Africa in
the 1930s while scouting for Hollywood talent.
Cheeta moved to Palm
Springs in 1991, where Westfall decided to
create a sanctuary for old show business
"I met Jane Goodall and
she suggested it," Westfall said.
The sanctuary now
houses some old stars as well as some unknowns
who were saved from laboratory testing, because
zoos won't take them, he said.
In addition to celebrating
his birthday, Cheeta also received a special
comedy award from the International Comedy Film
Festival of Peniscola (Spain). It's the first
award of his career.