WASHINGTON - Cheetah, a chimpanzee said to have performed in the Tarzan films of the 1930s, has died at the age of 80, according to the Florida sanctuary where he lived.
"It is with great sadness that the community has lost a dear friend and family member on December 24, 2011," the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida announced on its website.
Cheetah was said to have performed in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Tarzan and His Mate (1934), classic films about a man reared in the jungle starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan.
Similar claims were made about another very old chimpanzee, named Cheeta, which lives in California. But a writer researching that chimp in 2008 found considerable evidence it was too young to have appeared in the films, and its owners have accepted the findings on their website, cheetathechimp.org.
The average life span of a wild chimpanzee is around 45 years.
Several chimpanzees were used in the filming of the Tarzan movies and subsequent films, during a period when the primates were widely used in Hollywood and often mistreated.
The Florida chimpanzee -- which reportedly arrived at the sanctuary in 1960 -- loved finger-painting and watching football, and was soothed by Christian music, the sanctuary's outreach director Debbie Cobb told the Tampa Tribune.
"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," Cobb was quoted as saying.
Ron Priest, a sanctuary volunteer, told the Tribune that Cheetah stood out because he could walk upright with a straight back like a human, and was distinguished by other talents.
"When he didn't like somebody or something that was going on, he would pick up some poop and throw it at them. He could get you at 30 feet with bars in between," Priest said.