What Fans Don't Know About Tommy Chong

Actor, musician, and cannabis activist Tommy Chong is a highly influential man who's known for his views on a variety of topics. Chong doesn't shy away from controversy. According to his website, it's essential for Chong to openly show his support for the cannabis movement. In a bid to help out others like him, Chong offers cannabis as well as other products to those looking for them, making sure that he gives special attention to the details. As the website puts it, "We partner with innovative manufacturers who will develop unique high-quality products whether made in the USA or offshore for the brand."

The musician and activist has led a very eventful life. Not only has he dabbled in several fields, but he's also almost always growing personally and professionally. As reported by Complex in 2016, Chong was physically quite active even in his late seventies, exercising on a regular basis and playing hockey even when he was in his sixties. It's fair to say that he's rather enterprising. But not many people know the specific details from Chong's life such as his childhood, his foray into the entertainment industry, his long stint as an activist, and more. Here's a look at some of the lesser-known aspects of Tommy Chong's life.

Tommy Chong's childhood was colorful

Born to immigrant parents in 1938, Tommy Chong grew up in Canada. As per Chong's memoir The I Chong, his dad, Stan Chong, was of Chinese descent. According to Chong, his dad always had a bit of a Cantonese accent throughout his life. Stan tried to give his family a good life, trying several options such as shifting base to the country in a bid to try his luck as a turkey farmer. This didn't last too long, and, faced with disappointment, the family decided to head back to Edmonton. 

Around this time, Chong and his family also had to bear the brunt of the effects of World War II. Chong wrote about going through a particularly tough incident when one of his dad's friends, in a drunken haze, dropped the burning end of a cigar on him. He wrote, "The pain was intense and immediate, so I started screaming at the top of my lungs, which ignited my mother into action." Chong reckoned that while the experience was awful for him, he did feel like it helped him avoid turning to alcohol later in life. 

Additionally, Chong's family had to hold their own when Stan went to Europe to fight during the war. They had to bide their time with relatives.

Tommy Chong faced discrimination

Tommy Chong didn't have an easy time growing up. He told The Guardian that he was often bullied as a child because of how different he looked. He mentioned that he faced racism from his peers and reflected on how that affected him. He detailed one particular incident from the time he was in Calgary. Everyone except Chong was called to a birthday bash. He said, "I just looked out of the window of the second story and could see my friends gathering around the fire. I was uninvited 'cos the girl's father was worried she might end up with a colored guy or Chinese guy."

Chong saw racism from people in general and explained to The Guardian how racist behavior was normalized back when he was growing up. Later, when Chong took up comedy, he found himself drawing from his experiences with racism and openly expressing his thoughts on the topic.

Tommy Chong left school as a teen

Tommy Chong was around 16 years old when he made a pretty big decision and chose to leave school. According to The I Chong, his father was livid with Chong for quitting his education. Chong wrote that his father adored him but also couldn't bear it when he did things that Stan didn't approve of, such as spending time with people Stan didn't like. Chong wrote that Stan wouldn't communicate with him for months at a time.

Chong described in detail what happened when he decided to drop out of school. He recounted, "He [Stan] wanted to know why [Chong was leaving school] and when I told him, he didn't like my tone of voice and he slapped me so hard I ended up upside down in a closet!" 

After quitting school, Chong ended up trying out different things, such as teaching children and working on his acting skills. 

Tommy Chong discovered music

Tommy Chong discovered music around the time he left school, and he had an aptitude for it. According to Harp magazine, Chong ended up playing with fellow musician Bobby Taylor, was a part of the band Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers (originally called the Shades), and even purchased a nightclub called Elegant Parlor. Chong said that he didn't think he was good as the rest of his bandmates, but he was able to hold his own and make a name for himself as a musician. 

Before the Shades became Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, Tommy Chong also tried his hand at running several nightclubs. In 1968, Chong co-wrote a song called "Does Your Mama Know About Me?" which turned out to be a big hit. Even later in life, Chong continued to make music and released several songs that could be classified as bold and outspoken.

Tommy Chong had to leave his band

Sadly for Tommy Chong, he was let go from Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers after he skipped a band event. The reason? He needed to go and collect his green card,  according to Harp magazine. After the end of his association with the band, Chong started exploring other avenues in the entertainment industry, In the end, Chong decided to go back to Vancouver and start fresh. 

Looking back and reflecting on his journey many years later, Chong seemed grateful for everything nevertheless (via the Associated Press.) "When I was [a teenager], a jazz musician gave me a Lenny Bruce record and a joint at the same time, and it changed my life," he said. "I quit school I think a week later and went on the road and became a blues musician and eventually a comedian, and the rest, as they say, is history."

Cheech and Chong, the duo that became known for their comedy

Tommy Chong became a part of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong after his stint in the music industry. According to Harp magazine, Chong said that coming across Cheech "Richard" Marin changed his life for the better. He said, "We did nine months in an improv group and that eventually led to Cheech & Chong, and that led to fame and fortune." As per The Guardian,  the duo achieved a massive amount of success in the 1970s. 

Not only were Cheech and Chong's live performances huge hits, but they also made films like Up in Smoke and Cheech and Chong's Next Movie. As their official website mentions, the duo are Grammy Award winners for their extraordinary performances. They particularly stood out for their content on drug culture and the counterculture movement, especially their stance on cannabis. 

Chong later spoke about how audience members often misunderstood Cheech, based on their performances (via The Wrap.) He said, "The misconception of Cheech is that he was that Low Rider. No, in real life he's a college genius! High IQ, winner of Celebrity Jeopardy. He's a world-renowned art collector."

Tommy Chong went through his share of troubles

Beyond Cheech and Chong, Tommy Chong had to find other ways to keep his creative juices flowing. He ended up parting ways with Cheech and focused on his other goals, such as acting and entrepreneurship. 

As reported by The Guardian, the duo decided to go their separate ways in the 1980s on account of creative differences. Chong said, "We had some pretty heated arguments. Cheech would go on vacation and I'd be left alone to write the movies. Then he'd come back and I'd direct them, and he got tired of it." 

Things got really messy for Chong years later in 2003, and he had to spend time in jail after being accused of selling drug paraphernalia (bongs) online. According to The Guardian, Chong's lawyer argued that his client was being singled out for simply due to his fame, noting that plenty of businesses sold bongs. He said, "They are really prosecuting him for who he is. It was a very selective prosecution." 

Chong later said that being in jail wasn't that bad. In 2019, as actress Felicity Huffman was facing jail time for her role in that year's college admissions scandal, Chong said, "You're going on a mission. I swear to God. There's no punishment in the federal prison." He added that he even had access to a computer and a private cubicle in jail (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Tommy Chong does acting for fun

If there's one thing that can be said about Tommy Chong, it's that he's someone who's good at many things but doesn't make a big deal about it. For example, despite being an actor who has delivered good performances in his career, Chong has remained rather modest about everything. He told Salon in interview that he didn't plan on being a character actor. He said, "Mostly, if I have a choice, it's showing up and being Tommy Chong. I never had the ambition to be a great character actor."

However, he did acknowledge that being a part of the film Color Out of Space was mostly a positive experience for him and that he enjoyed himself on set. That said, Chong has reiterated the fact that he doesn't think of himself as an actor at several points in his life. According to Forbes, he said that he's just being himself and that Cheech is a much better actor than he is. Chong simply shows up and gets a part if the director thinks that he'll be a good fit for the role.

Surprisingly, Chong was even a part of a Disney film. He mentioned that he wasn't sure about being the right fit for the role but decided to give it a shot and was pleasantly surprised by his work in Zootopia

Tommy Chong has always been open about his stance on cannabis

For many years now, Tommy Chong has been vocal about his fondness for cannabis on public platforms. In fact, as pointed out by Rolling Stone, the activist took things a step further by speaking to other weed activists on his web show, Almost Legal With Tommy Chong

The activist is also vocal about his brand, Chong's Choice, which includes several products related to marijuana such as weed-laced breath strips, pre-rolled joints, and more. Chong also mentioned that he fled the United States when Ronald Reagan became president. He said, "I moved out of the country when Reagan was voted in [...] when he started busting people on yachts for finding a half a roach or a joint on-board the boat."

As reported by Salon, Chong was intrigued by jazz musicians' use of marijuana, noting that they'd smoke weed instead of relying on alcohol, which appealed to him. He added that he eventually felt that weed is useful in the sense that it really can help people avoid more potentially harmful options such as sleep aids or opioids.

Tommy Chong is happy about weed legalization

As you might imagine, Tommy Chong is rather happy about the fact that options such as medical marijuana are finally being made available in the West. In fact, in 2018, Chong was keen to return to his home country when weed was legalized in Canada, though he noted that he'd misplaced his passport and was struggling to find it (via The Independent). He said, "We're trying. Right now, I'm stuck here. I lost my passport, so we're going through the dance of a celebrity trying to get a passport fast."

He added that such a change was bound to happen because weed is a "positive medicine" for everyone, and the fact that more people have started embracing it really matters. He also noted that it didn't surprise him that weed is finally being recognized as a positive thing. He said that he has been thrilled to see weed being legalized (via Forbes).

To date, Chong remains a vocal advocate on social media platforms such as Instagram and often posts quirky updates and memes on the subject.

Tommy Chong lived with cancer

Tommy Chong suffered a setback when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. He decided to adopt a positive approach, joking around and being his typically jovial self. As Rolling Stone reported in 2016, Chong had dealt with cancer in the past, and his current diagnosis was a resurgence after his cancer had gone into remission three years earlier. Even as he was being treated and had to attend chemotherapy sessions, Chong maintained an optimistic outlook. He said, "The good part about my health is that I have to smoke a ton of pot to stay happy, to feel good, to keep my appetite, because I lost a lot of weight."

Plus, according to Forbes, Chong was diagnosed with prostate cancer when he was still in jail. He later said that he believes that mental stress added to his health troubles. He ultimately resorted to cannabis to cope with the pain and deal with everything he was going through.

Tommy Chong was a part of Dancing With The Stars

Tommy Chong, to his credit, has never hesitated to step out of his comfort zone. He was a part of Dancing With The Stars back in 2014 and really enjoyed his time on the show, according to Time. He said that he had been drawn to tango dancing for a very long time and was excited to be a part of the show. He told the magazine, "I love dancing. I've been trying to learn tango for years. This is the perfect environment for me, because you have to learn and you only have a few days."

Chong was ultimately voted off a week before that season's finals. As reported by ABC News, he was the oldest participant on the reality TV show yet to have made it to that point. One of his best performances on the show was based on The Nutcracker and elicited strong reactions from viewers. One of the judges, Carrie Ann Inaba, said that she was really impressed by what she saw: "There was something so tender, every touch, every embrace."

Chong reunited with Cheech

Tommy Chong began performing with Cheech again in 2008, and the two have continued to perform since. When Cheech was asked by CBS News in 2017 to elaborate on reuniting with his old friend, he said, "We came to the conclusion we don't have to love or hate each other, which we do both. And it's just, we have a business."

Things have worked out for the best, with the duo finding success in multiple areas. The two launched a chain of Cheech & Chong-branded marijuana dispensaries in 2020 (via Forbes.) From their official website, they sell a variety products, such as rolling paper, incense, T-shirts, hand pipes, beard oil, water pipes, posters, and more. 

From performing stand-up routines to being weed activists, the pair has really come far over the years. Cheech also pointed out to CBS News that pot being widely accepted has really helped their business. "I remember one time we were doing this big show in Detroit, and drunk white guys in suits were trying to get on the stage. Like how this has really changed!"