While Weissmuller was training with his brother on Lake Michigan for the Chicago River marathon in 1927, they saw the sinking steamboat, and they helped save its passengers, which made him an actual real-life hero. But how many lives did the actor who played Tarzan actually save?
The excursion boat called The Favorite capsized while carrying seventy-one passengers. Johnny Weissmuller pulled out over two dozen people from the wreckage, but only eleven of them survived.
Who Was Johnny Weissmuller?
Peter Johnny Weissmuller was born on June 2, 1904, in Freidorf, near Timișoara, Romania. The future actor was born to Peter and Elizabeth Weissmuller in a Banat Swabian Family. Before turning one, his family migrated to Windber, Pennsylvania.
At three, Weissmuller started attending school until the eighth grade. At the same time, his swimming career began. He trained at Illinois Athletic Club in Chicago and became a member of several championship relays and water polo teams in the 1920s.
Weissmuller holds remarkable athletic records, having three gold medals in the 1924 Olympic Games for 100-meter and 400-meter freestyle. He also won the 200-meter relay four times and earned a bronze medal while on the US water polo team. Besides being an Olympic champion, he also won two more gold medals for another 100-meter freestyle and four times 200-meter relay, not to mention his other triumphs on the same field. (Source: Britannica)
How Did Weissmuller Get Into Swimming?
When Weissmuller was young, he was a sickly boy. He was even placed on a special diet to increase his nutrition and was recommended by their family physician to take up swimming classes to improve his lungs. (Source: Britannica)
Weissmuller as Tarzan
This Olympic titleholder is not just good in his swimming career but also starred in twelve famous Tarzan films from 1932 until 1948, starting his debut in Tarzan the Ape Man in 1932.
He was discovered by novelist Cyril Hume while working out at the Hollywood Athletic Club’s pool. Hume helped him start his career as the chest-thumping king of the jungle with a cheetah as his constant companion.
Here are the Tarzan films where Johnny played the starring role:
- Tarzan The Ape Man (1932)
- Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
- Tarzan Escapes (1936)
- Tarzan Finds a Son (1939)
- Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941)
- Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942)
- Tarzan Triumphs (1943)
- Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943)
- Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)
- Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946)
- Tarzan and the Huntress (1947)
- Tarzan and the Mermaids (1948)
The Death of Tarzan
Weissmuller died at 79 in Acapulco, Mexico, on January 20, 1984. According to the hospital spokesperson, his death was caused by pulmonary edema, also known as a blockage in the lungs.
Years before his death, he suffered several strokes and has undergone multiple stomach operations. He would sit in his swimming trunks by the pool, looking at it for hours, and was unable to go to the water without his nurses. In the 1980’s he had a plastic tube on his stomach to help him eat and another on his throat to help him breathe.
It was estimated that there were about 1,500 Mexicans who attended his funeral. Six police motorcycles escorted him to his lying place about 250 miles south of Mexico City. His remains were buried in a marble tomb. According to the attendees of his funeral, they said that none of any Hollywood celebrities he worked with was present. (Source: UPI)