Tommy Chong's Untold Facts

Tommy Chong has been the kind, smiling, slightly spaced-out face of weed-based humour for decades. In the early '70s, he shot to fame as half of the venerable comedy duo Cheech and Chong, and through their albums (and later movies), the pair brought stoner culture and their own quirky comedic sensibilities firmly into the mainstream. Unfortunately, he had suffered a fallout with Cheech Marin in the late '80s, but since then, they have rebuilt fences, made sporadic live appearances together, and even appeared in the 2011 episode of The Simpsons (in which Homer briefly took Chong's place).

Most of the comedic routines of the duo have been the stuff of total myth, but Chong, in particular, has taken a bit of a unusual path to become one of the most famous promoters of cannabis culture on the planet. Take a look at the life and times of comedian, musician, actor, director and "Pope of Pot" Tommy Chong. The one who told us all to sit back, mellow, and stop thinking about where Dave is (he's not here, one).

He's from Canada!

Tommy was born in 1938 to Thomas B. Kin Chong, a Scottish-Irish mother (the waitress), and a Chinese father (the truck driver). It would be fair to believe that he was born right in the middle of a potential hotspot of weed like L.A.  However, Chong is originally from Edmonton, Alberta, making him the most notable Canadian source of dopey comedy on this side of Bob and Doug McKenzie's popular hosts. He is a naturalised American citizen today, but he is still very proud of his Canadian heritage — especially in view of the recent legalisation of his favourite green, leafy drug from his home country.

Chong also made it up to Kelowna, British Columbia, soon after the legislation passed to party with fellow heads, following a false start involving a traditional stoner issue (he briefly lost his passport). There, he gave a usually funny comment on the new law: "It makes me feel good about my country, proud to be a Canadian ... I think maybe they could create a statue of me. Except in Edmonton where I was born, but even a statue is too cold there. Not in Vancouver, so the pigeons are so many. Maybe in Victoria, I love that city."

First he was a musician

Coming up as a child of mixed-race descent in the 1950s was challenging even in Canada, and for Chong, the blues became his refuge from ridicule and bullying. He began playing guitar at an early age, and at 17, he decided to become a professional blues guitarist immediately after smoking his first cigarette. He was performing with an group named Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers in the early 1960s when success came knocking in the form of legendary Supreme vocalist Diana Ross who spotted their act and demanded that they be signed promptly by Motown head honcho Berry Gordy.

While signing to Motown, the band achieved some success, notching a # 29 hit in 1968 with the R&B song "Does Your Mama Care About Me" (which Chong co-wrote). But soon afterwards, the group's manager fired Chong for dragging his foot to apply for a green card, which would have allowed him to work and tour in the US. But, luckily for Chong, it was right around this time that he met Richard "Cheech" Marin in Vancouver, and after forming their own band the pair started making the club rounds. Yet fate will set its course- The pair soon found that their audiences had a much more positive response than their original music to their loopy pre-set patter, and it wasn't long before they wanted to turn to full-time comedy.

He's a Grammy-winning recording artist

The freshly revamped Cheech and Chong soon attracted the attention of record executive Lou Adler, who helped the pair transform their stand-up routines into what would become the first of their popular comedy records, Cheech and Chong in 1971. The debut featured some classic routines including "Blind Melon Chitlin," "Trippin' in Court," and the legendary "Dave." It was followed by 1972's Big Bambu (who came with an LP-sized rolling paper) and 1973's Los Cochinos — all of which went all the way to #2 on the Billboard album charts. With these releases, the pair clearly formed the "Pedro" (Cheech) and "Guy" (Chong) personalities that would later star in their classic films — but although their comedy was definitely filled with weeds, it was nothing but lazy. Remembering such legendary comedy duos as Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy, Cheech and Chong's talent for precise comedic timing and twisty wordplay, their popularity was high enough for Los Cochinos to earn them a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album in 1973. Additional albums would follow in '74 and '76, but the constant recording and touring was beginning to take a toll — enough so that, for a brief moment, the duo considered calling it quits. Additional records would follow in '74 and' 76 but the relentless filming and touring was beginning to take on a toll — enough for the pair to contemplate leaving it for a fleeting moment.

He was battling cancer ... Then smoked his way out

Chong is likely to say flatly that marijuana kills cancer, which isn't necessarily scientifically true, given what it does do to treat pain then alleviate anxiety. Then again, he himself did fight with the Major C, so you certainly don't have to try too hard to infer his chosen treatment form. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Chong blamed his incarceration for his illness, saying, "I'm a major believer in the medicinal effects of weed, which helped me with the cancer that I received in gaol. The gaol was constructed over a hazardous waste landfill, so when I went in there, I was perfectly fine, and when I came out, I had prostate cancer. To be honest, Chong also credits a shift in diet and lifestyle to help rid him of the disease which came back in the form of colorectal cancer in 2015. He took a much more conservative path this time, pursuing chemotherapy in the hopes of raising the recurrence risk. He also kept up his diet consistently and, of course, his hash oil intake — and he was able to pronounce himself cancer-free once again by 2016.

He got high with everyone

Chong appears to have smoked, as one would guess, with practically everyone who got high in the '60s and '70s—that is, practically everyone, really. He was able to list names when asked by Rolling Stone to list a few popular personalities for whom he may have had the pleasure of smoking. He appears to have smoked such a joint with great basketball Kareem Abdul-Jabbar over the years, who says Chong "played basketball eight years past his age because he was and still is a fat, fat pothead," as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom Chong terms "one of the planet's healthiest people."

Smoking sessions with popular musicians also took place, of course: jazz guitar legend Wes Montgomery, folk songstress Joni Mitchell, and — oddly enough — "any Beatle except Paul," whom he claims was the only member of the fabled band who was "truly a pothead." Chong also has fond memories of smoking with George Harrison several times, remembering one crazy party in Malibu: "It was so funny because, remember Tony Dow from Leave It to Beaver? He was Silly. He, too, was at the party. So, I had the cigarette, I gave it to George, George took a toke, handing it back to me, and I looked and there was Tony Dow......and I couldn't resist, I said, 'Gee, Wally, does the Beaver recognise this? 'Then he gave me this scornful look ... but he lit up.'