Tommy Chong in San Diego, 2006
|Born||Thomas B. Kin Chong
May 24, 1938
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
|Occupation||Actor, comedian, musician|
|Children||Rae Dawn Chong|
Thomas B. Kin "Tommy" Chong (born May 24, 1938) is a Canadian comedian, actor, writer, director, activist, and musician. He is well known for his marijuana-themed Cheech & Chong comedy movies with Cheech Marin, as well as playing the character Leo on Fox's That '70s Show. He became a naturalized United States citizen in the late 1980s.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Early career
- 3 Later career
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Legal troubles
- 6 Reuniting with Cheech
- 7 Filmography
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Chong was born as Thomas B. Kin Chong at University Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta. His mother was Lorna Jean (née Gilchrist), a waitress of Scots-Irish and French ancestry, and his father was Stanley Chong, a Chinese truck driver who immigrated to Canada from China in the 1920s. The senior Chong had first lived with an aunt in Vancouver after arriving in Canada.
When Tommy was young, his family moved to Calgary, settling in a conservative neighbourhood Chong refers to as the Dog Patch. He says that his father had "been wounded in World War II, and there was a veterans' hospital in Calgary. He bought a five-hundred dollar house in Dog Patch, and raised his family on fifty dollars a week." In an interview, Tommy Chong later said,
“I dropped out of Crescent Heights High School when I was 16 but probably just before they were going to throw me out anyway. ... I played guitar to make money. I was about 16 when I discovered that music could get you laid, even if you were a scrawny, long-haired, geeky-looking guy like me.”
By the early 1960s, Chong was playing guitar for a Calgary soul group called The Shades. The Shades moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where the band's name changed to "Little Daddy & The Bachelors". They recorded a single, "Too Much Monkey Business" / "Junior's Jerk". Together with bandmember Bobby Taylor, Chong opened a Vancouver nightclub in 1963. Formerly the Alma Theatre, they called it "Blue Balls". They brought in the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, which had never been to Vancouver before. Although Little Daddy & The Bachelors built up a small following, things soured when they went with Chong's suggestion and had themselves billed as "Four Niggers and a Chink". (or, bowing to pressure, "Four N's and a C") before taking on the moniker Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers.
In 1965, the Vancouvers signed with Gordy Records (a subsidiary of Detroit's Motown Records). They recorded their debut album, an eponymous release, and their debut single, the Tommy Chong co-composition, "Does Your Mama Know About Me," which peaked at number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100. While on tour in Chicago for a short time, the band followed opening act The Jackson 5. Chong later referred to the young Michael Jackson as a "cute little guy". After the band released two additional singles, Chong and Wes Henderson were fired by Clark and Motown producer Johnny Bristol for missing an appointment to apply for Green cards to enable them to live in the US. The group broke up shortly afterwards, when Chong tried to reduce the number of players covered by the Vancouvers' contract. He intended that he, Taylor, and Henderson would constitute the group, while other members would be classified as sidemen and session artists.
Cheech & Chong
Chong directed four of their films, while co-writing and starring in all seven with Cheech Marin.
Cheech & Chong, while a very successful comedy act, experienced creative differences and split in 1985. This was difficult for Chong. He next acted as a recurring character and later a regular character as the hippie "Leo" (similar to his Chong character) during the second, third, fourth, seventh, and eighth seasons of That '70s Show. He also played a role as a hippie in Dharma and Greg.
Chong was originally going to voice the character of Shenzi, the hyena in the Disney film The Lion King. Cheech Marin voiced Banzai. (The Shenzi character was changed to a female, and voiced instead by Whoopi Goldberg.)
In September 2005 a/k/a Tommy Chong premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary, produced, written and directed by Josh Gilbert, chronicles Chong's comedic and personal history. It includes material related to his prosecution by the US Justice Department and imprisonment. The project features interviews with Cheech Marin, Bill Maher, George Thorogood, Peter Coyote, Lou Adler, Eric Schlosser and Jay Leno. In 2011 Chong appeared as a Judge in an episode of Franklin & Bash.
Chong married Maxine Sneed in 1960 in Canada. She is also multi-racial, of Black Canadian and Cherokee descent. They have two daughters, Rae Dawn (b. 1961), and Robbi Chong (b. 1963). They divorced in 1970.
In 1975, Chong married Shelby Fiddis in Los Angeles. They had three children, sons Paris (b. 1974) and Gilbran (b. 1981), and daughter Precious Chong (b. 19xx). In 1978 the couple adopted Marcus Wyatt, an African-American/Chinese boy from Seattle, Washington, who was born in 1967. Rae Dawn, Robbi, Marcus, and Precious Chong have each pursued careers in acting. In addition to film work, in May 2011, Precious Chong had her play, Push ...One Mother of a Show, produced in Toronto.
In the late 1980s, Chong became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Rae Dawn Chong has also become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Tommy Chong has become a marijuana activist and supports legalizing the drug's use. He is a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture Magazine and sits on the NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) advisory board.
He announced on June 9, 2012, that he is battling prostate cancer. He described the cancer "as a slow stage one [that I've] had for a long time." He said that he had been drug-free for about three years, during which time he began having prostate-related problems. On July 15, 2012, Chong tweeted that the hemp oil he had been taking to treat his cancer was working and that "he is 99% cancer free".
US vs. Chong
In 2003, Chong became caught up in two American investigations, code-named Operation Pipe Dreams and Operation Headhunter, which tried to trace drug traffic and users through businesses selling drug paraphernalia, mostly bongs. Operation Pipe Dream was run from Pittsburgh. US Attorney for Western Pennsylvania, Mary Beth Buchanan oversaw the case. The estimated cost of Operation Pipe Dream was over $12 million and included the resources of 2,000 law enforcement officers. Fifty-five companies that sold drug paraphernalia over the Internet, which is illegal, were the subject of the investigation and Nice Dreams was one of them.
Chong was charged for his part in financing and promoting Chong Glass/Nice Dreams, a company started by his son Paris. His case never went to trial, as his attorney negotiated a plea agreement with the US Attorney for Western Pennsylvania's Office. He admitted to distributing 7,500 bongs and water pipes on the Internet through Nice Dreams, a family company. Chong agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia in exchange for non-prosecution of his wife, Shelby, and his son, Paris. Chong cooperated with the government and was the first of the Operation Pipe Dreams defendants to plead guilty.
At Chong’s sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania, Mary McKeen Houghton, said in her arguments that Tommy Chong "used his public image to promote this crime" and marketed his products to children. U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan also was present at the sentencing in Pittsburgh and released a statement to the press stating, "there are consequences for violating the law, even if the violator is a well-known entertainer like Thomas Chong."
While Chong argued for community service and home detention at his sentencing, the district judge, Arthur J. Schwab, denied his requests and sentenced him to 9 months in federal prison, a fine of $20,000, forfeiture of $103,514, and the loss of all merchandise seized during the raid of his business. Chong served his sentence at the Taft Correctional Institution from October 8, 2003 to July 7, 2004. he was a cellmate--or "cubie"-- with The Wolf of Wall Street [Jordan Belfort]], and is given credit for encouraging Belfort to write his memoirs. They have remained friends ever since.
While government officials denied that Chong was treated any differently from the other defendants, supporters felt his celebrity status was being used against him. Chong's publicist Brandie Knight said the Chong family was shocked by the raid. "We've done everything the right way, and the government is saying there is no right way," Knight said. Supporters started the "Free Tommy Chong!" movement that called for his release. They question why Chong was prosecuted rather than his son Paris Chong, CEO of the business;, the disparity in sentences between Chong's and those of other defendants; and the DEA tactics in the investigation.
Paris Chong had started Nice Dreams in 1999. At the time of the allegations in the indictment, he was CEO of the company. He was never charged with a crime in relation to the investigation. When asked why the government had focused on Chong rather than his son, the CEO, US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan said that “Tommy Chong was the more responsible corporate officer because he financed and marketed the product.”
Of the 55 people subjects in the investigation, Chong was the only one without previous convictions who received jail time. When questioned on the sentencing, US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan noted that Chong had never gone to trial and made a plea bargain. She said, "He was a relatively new player, but he had the ability to market products like no other."
During its investigation of Nice Dreams, federal agents posed as head-shop owners from Pittsburgh’s suburban Beaver County. They asked Paris Chong to sell them his pipes through the mail to a fictitious shop in suburban Beaver Falls. Paris Chong had prohibited selling to Pittsburgh or anywhere in Western Pennsylvania because of the successful federal prosecution of Akhil Kumar Mishra and his wife, Rajeshwari, who had two head shops in the city. Accounts differ as to who in Nice Dreams went against Chong's prohibition, but the sales took place to the agents. This enabled the US Attorney claim jurisdiction in Pittsburgh as opposed to California, the base for Nice Dreams.
In December 2004, Chong was to appear in an off-Broadway show entitled The Marijuana-Logues, a parody of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues. His parole officer barred him from the show and the tour was cancelled, as audience members were smoking pot during performances. Such exposure would cause Chong to violate the terms of his parole. In 2006, Chong published a memoir about his experiences in jail and his exploration of meditation, called The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint.
In 2010, Chong and Cyril Wecht appeared at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to aid the campaign against Mary Beth Buchanan, the United States Attorney who prosecuted him. She was running as a Republican candidate for the United States House of Representatives. She was defeated in the Republican primary.
Seizure of a/k/a Tommy Chong DVDs
On May 7, 2008, federal agents raided Spectrum Labs in an investigation related to its "detoxification" products. The search was one of nine conducted for Operation True Test, an investigation being led by Buchanan, still the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania. It targeted companies that sell so-called "masking products," intended to help drug-users pass employer drug tests. No federal law bans such products; they are regulated on a state-by-state basis. Of the nine search warrants issued, none was for businesses within Buchanan's district.
Chong claimed that federal agents had seized 8,000-10,000 copies of the yet-to-be released documentary, a/k/a Tommy Chong, from Spectrum Labs, but their attorney said no DVDs were taken. In a press release, Chong said, "[The seizure of the DVDs is] a way to punish the distributor financially. There's no way to get the DVDs back until the investigation is over." Chong said he did not have any ownership of the film. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette later amended its story, saying that an "undisclosed number of DVDs was taken". It noted the government is not required to disclose a reason for the seizure as the raid was part of "an ongoing investigation".
Reuniting with Cheech
In mid-2008, Cheech & Chong reunited and started touring. The tour was called Light Up America and Canada and The Felimony Tour, which referred to major expenses of each. In October 2008, they appeared on The Opie and Anthony Show, The Howard Stern Show and The Ron and Fez Show on SIRIUS/XM Satellite Radio. On March 1, 2010, they hosted WWE Raw in Oklahoma City.
- Playboy Comedy Roast for Tommy Chong (1986)
- Miami Vice (1986) - T.R. 'Jumbo' Collins
- The George Carlin Show (1994) - Rhodes 
- Nash Bridges (1997) - Barry Chen
- Sliders (1997) - Van Elsinger
- That 70s Show (1999–2002), (2005–2006) - Leo Chingkwake
- Dharma & Greg (1999) - Carl
- South Park (2000) - Chief Running Pinto
- George Lopez (2007) - Mr. Gutierez
- Code Monkeys (2008) - Laird Boone
- Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld (Fox News Channel) - Himself
- MADtv (2009) - Himself
- Tosh.0 (2009) - Himself
- WWE Raw (2010) - Himself (Guest Host)
- The Simpsons (2011) - Himself
- Franklin and Bash (2011) - Judge Tommy Harper
- FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992) - Root
- Scarface: The World Is Yours (2006) - pedestrian
- Code Monkeys (2008) - Laird Boony
- Hoodwinked 2: Hood vs. Evil (2011) - Stone
- Cheech & Chong's Animated Movie (2012)
- Up in Smoke (1978) ... Anthony 'Man' Stoner
- Cheech & Chong's Next Movie (1980) ... Chong
- Nice Dreams (1981) ... Chong
- It Came from Hollywood (1982) ... Himself
- Things Are Tough All Over (1982) ... Chong/Prince Habib
- Still Smokin' (1983) ... Chong
- Yellowbeard (1983) ... El Nebuloso
- Cheech & Chong's The Corsican Brothers (1984) ... Corsican Brother
- Get Out of My Room (1985) ... The Man
- After Hours (1985) ... Pepe (as Chong)
- Far Out Man (1989) ... Far Out Man
- Tripwire (1990) ... Merle Shine
- The Spirit of '76 (1990) ... Stoner
- Life After Sex (1992) ... awkward naked guy
- FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992) ... Root
- National Lampoon's Senior Trip (1995) ... Red
- McHale's Navy (1997) ... Armando/Ernesto
- Half Baked (1998) ... Squirrel Master
- The Wash (2001) ... Dee's Connection
- Best Buds (2003) ... Tommy Chong/Carlos
- Secret Agent 420 (2005) ... QP
- Evil Bong (2006) ... Jimbo Leary
- American Drug War: The Last White Hope (2007) ... Himself
- The Union: The Business Behind Getting High (2007) ... Himself
- I Am Somebody: No Chance in Hell (2008) (original title: Chinaman's Chance) ... Deputy Tom
- a/k/a Tommy Chong (2008 DVD Release) ... Himself
- Cheech & Chong's Hey Watch This (Documentary film about their 2008–09 reunion tour) (2010) ... Himself
- Cheech & Chong's Animated Movie (2013) ... Chong
- Post Gazette
- "Biographies." CheechandChong.com.
- "Nardwuar vs. Tommy Chong". Nardwuar. YouTube. August 20, 1993. Retrieved 2012-05-25.
- Newsweek, Volume 80. Newsweek. 1972. Retrieved 2012-05-25.
- Tommy Chong - NORML
- Thomas Chong - Yahoo! TV
- Paul, Pratt (November 18, 2005). "Growing Up a Chong". AsianWeek.
- Hamilton, Andrew. "Bobby Taylor". AllMusic.
- Kayce, Aaron (2007). "Tommy Chong: From Guitar to Bong". Harp. HarpMagazine.com. Retrieved 2007-09-24.
- "Tommy Chong". The New York Times.
- Meghan Housley, "Precious Chong Pushes Boundaries" Bunch, 7 May 2011, accessed 8 December 2013
- "Comedian Tommy Chong fighting prostate cancer". CNN. Retrieved June 10, 2012.
- "Tommy Chong". Twitter.
- Mikulan, Steve (December 4, 2003). "Chong Family Values". LA Weekly Times.
- "Chong Actor Tommy Chong gets nine months for selling pot pipes". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. September 13, 2003.
- Gray, Geoffrey (December 2, 2013). "The Wolf of Wall Street Can't Sleep". New York: 64–69. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- "Tommy Chong’s Bongs". Reason Magazine. May 2004.
- Jake Coyle (February 28, 2005). ""The Marijuana-Logues" up in smoke; Tommy Chong cancels tour". The Seattle Times.
- Roddy, Dennis B. (May 6, 2010), "Chong and Wecht form an unlikely alliance against Buchanan", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, retrieved 2010-05-07
- "Buchanan picks new target: products that mask drug use". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. May 11, 2008.
- "Actor Tommy Chong Claims Link to FBI Raids". Local 12.com. May 8, 2008.
- ""The George Carlin Show": George Runs Into an Old Friend". IMDB. July 18, 2012.
- Tommy Chong at the Internet Movie Database
- Chong's Bongs Gone Wrong A Newsweek article by Brian Braiker about Tommy Chong's various legal problems
- HoboTrashcan's One on One with Tommy Chong An in-depth interview about politics, Cheech and Chong and Tommy's wife and kids
- An Interview With Tommy Chong A Stumped? magazine article by Zach Freeman
- Video interview with Tommy Chong on 'Connected Life'
- Donald E. Wilkes, Jr., "Pot Pope Imprisoned." Published in Flagpole Magazine, p. 31 (December 20, 2006).