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Celebrity deaths in 2011

Slideshow posted in Photos | Monday, January 03, 2011

2 of 84: Cheetah, one of the chimpanzees who starred in several 'Tarzan' films in the 1930s, recently died. He was estimated to have been about 80 years old.

The animal, who was named after his on-screen character, passed away on Dec. 24, 2011 after suffering kidney failure, according to the website of Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor, Florida, where the animal has been living since about 1960.

'Cheetah was roughly 80 years old, loved fingerpainting and football and was soothed by nondenominational Christian music,' Debbie Cobb, the sanctuary's outreach director, told The Tampa Tribune.

'He was very compassionate,' she said. '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.'

However, Cheetah did have a naughty side. Ron Priest, a sanctuary volunteer, told the newspaper that if the animal '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.'

Cheetah had his own Twitter page and blog on AOL's Patch network. In one post, it was revealed that the chimp enjoyed frozen juice pops and sugar-free Kool-aid.

Cheetah was the loyal companion of Tarzan, a human who was raised by chimpanzees, wore a loincloth and shouted a trademark yell. Several animal actors played the character in many film adaptations of the franchise. The sanctuary's Cheetah appeared in the 1932 movie 'Tarzan the Ape Man'" and the 1934 film 'Tarzan and His Mate,' both of which starred Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan.

The actor died in 1984 at age 79. He also played the character in 10 more 'Tarzan' films, the last of which was released in 1948. Cobb told the Tamba Tribune that Cheetah lived at Weissmuller's estate before moving to Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in the 1960s.

If the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary's Cheetah was 80 at the time of his death, that would make him the world's oldest chimpanzee. Scientists believe that chimpanzees, who are endangered, live to be about 45 years old in the wild and an average of 50 in captivity.

Another chimpanzee that played Cheetah in "Tarzan" movies that starred Weissmuller lives at an animal sanctuary in Palm Spring, California. His name is spelled without an "h" and his exact age has not been determined.

'Please note that the passing of Cheeta refers to a chimpanzee at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary and not our Cheeta,' a message on his website said. 'We too are saddened to hear about Cheeta's passing and send our deepest sympathies to our colleagues at Suncoast.'

(Pictured: Johnny Weissmuller appears as Tarzan, Maureen O'Sullivan as Jane and Cheetah as himself in a scene from the 1932 movie 'Tarzan the Ape Man.' / Cheetah appears in an undated photo posted on the website of the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary.') (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / suncoastprimate.homestead.com)