No celebrities at Weissmuller funeral

ACAPULCO, Mexico -- Olympic swimming champion and film star Johnny Weissmuller was entombed Sunday in a funeral attended by hundreds of local residents and a chimp, but no Hollywood colleagues and few relatives came to mourn 'Tarzan the Ape Man.'

Weissmuller, who won gold medals at two Olympics and motion picture fame as 'Tarzan,' died Saturday of a lung blockage, doctors said. He was 79.


An estimated 1,500 Mexicans, many of them children, gathered at the downtown Acapulco funeral home as the cortege, escorted by six police motorcycles, set off on the 12-mile journey to the Valley of Light cemetery, north of the resort town 250 miles south of Mexico City.

About 1,000 of the Mexicans followed the cortege on foot or in buses as it proceeded slowly to the cemetery where Weissmuller's body was interred in a marble tomb.

A few American tourists were in evidence in the crowd that accompanied the cortege, but none of the Hollywood celebrities Weissmuller worked with were present, residents said.


A chimpanzee, like Tarzan's ever-present movie companion Cheetah, accompanied the procession.

The chimp, named Samanta -- Spanish for Samantha -- is the mascot of Acapulco restaurant-owner Jose Rodriquez. Jose Estrada, who worked as Weissmuller's double in a Mexican-made Tarzan movie, was also present.

Weissmuller's wife Maria, appearing grim and upset, refused any comment to reporters. Neither daughter Lisa nor other family members were present at the funeral.

Weissmuller overcame childhood polio and went on to win five gold medals in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics before appearing in some two dozen films.

A hospital spokesman said the cause of death was listed as pulmonary edema, or a blockage in the lungs.

Born in Windber, Pa., June 2, 1904, Weissmuller rose to prominence first as a world-class swimmer -- he never lost a swimming competition - and then as the breast-beating, loin-clothed king of the jungle in the film versions of Edgar Rice Burroughs' famed 'Tarzan' stories.

'My doctor said I should take up some sort of exercise to build myself up,' Weissmuller once recalled. 'I got into a swimming pool at the YMCA and liked it,' he said. 'And I found I had a natural flair for it.'

A handsome 200-pounder in 1930, Weissmuller was working out at the Hollywood Athletic Club's pool when he was seen by novelist Cyril Hume, who was writing a screenplay for a Tarzan picture.


After a screen test, the former swimmer got the part.

Although there were other Tarzans before and after him, Weissmuller was the most popular, beginning a string of jungle pictures with 'Tarzan the Ape Man' in 1930.

Weissmuller moved to a rented home in Acapulco after suffering several strokes and stomach operations. In his final years, he spent many hours sitting in his bathing trunks and staring at a swimming pool, which he couldn't enter unless accompanied by his nurses.

On his 76th birthday in 1980, Weissmuller was serenaded by a mariachi band. He had a plastic tube in his throat to help him breathe and another in his stomach to feed him.

'Most of the time he is not clear,' his wife said at the time. 'His memory is impaired and he does not recognize people.'

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