Palm Springs chimp Cheeta, billed as Hollywood ‘Tarzan’ star, dies

Cheeta, a chimpanzee who retired to Palm Springs after a supposedly illustrious career in “Tarzan” films but whose Hollywood bonafides were later cast into doubt, died Thursday, said his owner, Dan Westfall.

The primate lived with Westfall at a home on East Francis Road in the Racquet Club Estates neighborhood that Westfall set up as an animal sanctuary called Casa de Cheeta. In addition to Cheeta, over the years, the facility has been home to another chimpanzee, Jeeter, and other exotic animals.

For years, Cheeta was billed as the star of numerous “Tarzan” films and other movies, concluding with 1967’s “Dr. Dolittle.” He supposedly worked alongside actors Johnny Weissmuller, Ronald Reagan and Rex Harrison in his heyday.

Cheeta received a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 1995. Westfall received one nearby in 2010.

Jane Goodall, the renowned primate researcher, visited Cheeta in Palm Springs in 2006, and he was featured in People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and other national publications. Westfall’s home is filled with memorabilia about Cheeta, and tourists would often visit the home/sanctuary.

Casa de Cheeta, at 1033 East Francis Drive in Palm Springs.

The chimp spent his later years swinging on play equipment in the backyard, listening to music and watching TV at the Francis Road property. He also was reinvented as a “Primate Picasso,” with his painted artworks selling for over $100 each, with proceeds benefitting a 501(c) 3 that Westfall set up to benefit the sanctuary.

“I had him here with me for 31 years and 5 days,” a tearful Westfall said Monday. “He was a bright light in my life, and now that light has gone out. It happens to all of us.”

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