Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Alan Cumming Is Thrilled That His (Chimp) Co-Star Rose from the Dead: 'I'm Dancing a Jig'

It's all part of a bizarre saga that's found the owner of the ape, who appeared in films like George of the Jungle and Buddy, accused of faking its death.

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Image for article titled Alan Cumming Is Thrilled That His (Chimp) Co-Star Rose from the Dead: 'I'm Dancing a Jig'
Photo: Frederic J. Brown (Getty Images)

The ’90s were truly a heyday for simian stars—or at least, for the monkey wranglers who owned them. From The Jungle Book to Dr. Doolittle to George of the Jungle to Dunston Checks In, it was pretty much impossible to make it through a 90-minute family comedy without at least one monkey moment.

But what ever happened to those hairy stars of the big screen? One former-Hollywood ape, a chimpanzee named Tonka, is back in the news thanks to a bizarre, Tiger King-worthy plot that reportedly found his owner faking the ape’s death for over a year in an attempt to foil PETA’s efforts to have him sent to a sanctuary. Last week, it was revealed that Tonka has actually been alive all this time—and now, PETA says that the animal has finally landed at his new, court-ordered home.

Tonka’s one-time friend and co-star Alan Cumming, who put up $10,000 in reward money for information about the ape’s whereabouts, was pretty happy to find out that his old pal isn’t dead after all. “I feel so emotional about this great news,” he said in a statement released by PETA. “I’m dancing a jig that PETA has rescued Tonka from the woman who locked him away alone in a basement and lied about it. The thought of Tonka being able to wander free and happy at Save the Chimps’ lush, spacious sanctuary for the rest of his life has me singing a happy song.”

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The legal fight over Tonka has lasted six years and began with PETA suing his former owner, a chimpanzee breeding facility once known as “Chimparty,” alleging that the animals were kept in inadequate conditions. (That was the company that bred and sold the chimp who, in 2009, mauled a woman so badly that she became one of the first Americans to receive a full face transplant.) Tonia Haddix took ownership of Tonka and other chimps from the facility, but PETA argued that the animals were still receiving inadequate care, and a judge ruled that they should be transferred to the sanctuary.

Rather than give Tonka up, however, Haddix admitted to Rolling Stone that she filed court documents saying that the animal had a stroke and later died of heart failure—all while Tonka was actually being hidden at her home. There, Rolling Stone reported, Tonka “had a 60-inch TV, an interactive iPad-like touch device, and had celebrated St. Patrick’s Day among a few of Haddix’s close friends.” Sure sounds like a chimpanzee’s natural habitat!

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With the help of a whistleblower, PETA discovered Tonka was actually still in the land of the living. (The group claims that Haddix had planned to euthanize the animal, which Haddix denied in her interview with Rolling Stone.) On Monday, PETA announced that Tonka had been taken to the Save the Chimps sanctuary.

It’s no wonder that Cumming is so happy about Tonka’s discovery and possible salvation from euthanasia—according to an interview he gave to Salon last year, the two co-stars had become pretty close while filming Buddy. When, a year after shooting the film, it was time for Cumming to pose for press photos, he was surprised that he was paired with a new chimp rather than his old pal.

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“Then they said, ‘He’s gone to live in Palm Springs. He’s retired,’” Cumming told Salon. He later found out the full story, however. “They went, ‘No, he’s six now and he’s sexually aggressive, so they were worried if he saw you.’ So they couldn’t have him near me because I was too arousing for this chimp. I took that as a huge compliment as well.” That’s not the kind of bond that you just forget!