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Happy Birthday Cheeta

World's Oldest Chimp Turns 74

Cheeta the chimpanzee celebrated his 74th birthday Sunday in true Hollywood fashion -- accepting an award before an adoring entourage and possibly some paparazzi.

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 sweet tooth.

"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 primates.

"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.
 

 

 

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