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Kenzy: A Chimp More Famous Than You Know

Born in 1986, this '80s baby and '90s kid remembers the colorful and naughty side of millennial youth.


Maybe Hogan Did Know Best?

Kenzy, also known as Kenzie, was born on January 31, 2005, to Coco, a moderately famous chimp in the Festus, Missouri, area. Coco used to ride on motorcycles and greet customers at a pet store belonging to Connie Casey, who would later turn the business into the Missouri Primate Foundation, a facility that bred chimps for showbiz. Many of Kenzy's blood and adopted family members would go on to find work on The Hallmark Channel and American Greetings, and Kenzy himself would not have to wait very long for the limelight.

VH1's Hogan Knows Best gave Kenzy his first major role on the 10th episode of Season 2, "Monkey Business." The episode was filmed when Kenzy was just barely a few weeks old.

In the episode, WWE Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan found himself clashing with his then wife Linda, when she calls the Missouri Primate Foundation and adopts baby Kenzy without telling her husband and without doing any research at all on chimpanzees.

When she is told by a handler from the Missouri Primate Foundation that she can't have any other animals near baby Kenzy, (whom she tried to re-name Harry), she callously forces all of the Hogan family's pets outside for the next two weeks. This included more than six dogs and a few birds.

As the episode goes on, Linda only seems to care for dressing up Kenzy and treating Kenzy as a baby, but when Kenzy needs a diaper change or food, Linda is nowhere to be found, and she does not watch Kenzy, leaving the baby chimp to wander in dangerous areas, including the home gym. Linda's husband and daughter end up taking care of the chimp, while Linda pushes more and more of her responsibilities away while also lying about how much she is doing for the family and lying about which rooms Kenzy has been in.

When confronted about her behavior, she insists she loves Kenzy as much, perhaps even more than her own children.

Hulk realizes that this is not a healthy environment for Kenzy. Although Linda is reluctant, he is able to convince her to call the Missouri Primate Foundation back and surrender Kenzy to his original owners, and then he brings the family's' pets back into the house.

A rough start on a reality show might be a career ender for a human, but for Kenzy? Well, this was only the beginning.


Go, Speed Racer, Go!

Kenzy was barely back at the Missouri Primate Foundation for a week when the phone must have been ringing, because Kenzy began doing TV commercials, TV show appearances, and special meet and greets almost immediately.

But then came the biggest break imaginable. The Wachowskis' $120 million dollar blockbuster, Speed Racer, a big budget, live-action, comic book inspired re-imagining of the Japanese anime of the same American name. (Speed Racer is Mahha GōGōGō in Japan.)

Kenzy would share the role of Chim-Chim with another chimpanzee named Willy/Willie, and he would have his likeness used on t-shirts, mugs, toys, and even on movie tie-in video games.

While the bulk of the movie's visually stunning scenes were completed with CGI, some scenes had to be shot on location, so Kenzy would find himself bouncing from Japan to the United States to Germany, the latter country's Federal Film Fund being a big help towards the end of production.

But before Kenzy could walk the red carpet and bask in peak celebrity status, there would be controversy.

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Cast members for the film have since told uncomfortable stories about both Kenzy and Willy's behavior while on set. Both were said to have been more than a handful for the actors and trainers alike, but Kenzy's actions would be the focus of many interviews.

Early in production, there was an unsavory moment where at a family dinner scene, Kenzy had gotten scared by a loud sound off camera. Kenzy screamed, then grabbed actress Christina Ricci's left breast, pulling it down as he landed on the floor, never letting go.

Not only did a handler not arrive on set to retrieve Kenzy, but nothing at all was done, and Ricci was laughed at for her startled reaction while she was in serious pain, and she would go on to be ridiculed for the remainder of production.

But a more infamous incident took place when one of the chimps (it is alleged, Kenzy) bit the stand-in for child actor Paulie Litt. The attack was unprovoked, neither the child nor the stand-in did anything to disrespect or antagonize the chimp, but they were bitten anyway.

It was here that a trainer hit the chimp to get the chimp to let go of the actor, but even though this was to rescue the actor, this was deemed animal cruelty.

PETA launched an attack on the crew and the studio, doing everything in their power to trash the film's premiere.

Although no further harm was done to either Kenzy or Willy, the damage was done to the buzz for the film overall, and this brief incident set off a chain reaction that would send shockwaves through Hollywood for the next two decades.


Kenzy's Quiet New Life

After Speed Racer failed to meet its financial goals, Kenzy was sold by his trainers to a private owner, who also purchased Kenzy's siblings, Hannah and Bentley. However, they immediately realized that all of the chimps deserved a way better life.

That owner got a hold of The Center For Great Apes, a sanctuary for Hollywood's discarded chimps with large play areas, clean food, and nurturing caregivers.

It took a very long time for Kenzy to get used to being around other chimpanzees he wasn't familiar with, but after a few years, he started learning how to play games and explore his new surroundings with his siblings, and before long, with adopted siblings from across the country.

But many of those extra siblings would come from Kenzy's birthplace, the Missouri Primate Foundation.

From the moment Speed Racer had its folly, PETA had launched an investigation into Kenzy's original home. From 2008 to 2022, PETA filed one lawsuit after another, alleging animal cruelty, breeding, and dangerous living conditions for the other chimps.

Over the years, chimps had escaped and been found in unspeakable conditions, lending credence to many of PETA's accusations.

As of January 6, 2022, the Missouri Primate Foundation had ceased operations, and all but one chimp had been sent to live with Kenzy at The Center For Great Apes.

Aside from Kenzy's extended family, the chimps would also enjoy the company of a very famous neighbor.

Bubbles, the former chimp of late singer Michael Jackson, began calling The Center For Great Apes home just two months after Kenzy was born and had taken up painting.

Kenzy's story may have had a troubled beginning, but it isn't getting a sad ending.

© 2022 Koriander Bullard

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