The Untold Truth Of Cheech Marin

Cheech Marin has one of the most recognizable faces and voices in the entertainment industry. Whether you know him from his lengthy tenure as one half of the comedy duo Cheech & Chong, or from his years in the limelight as a solo performer and actor, or by any of his numerous other endeavors, Marin has been a constant presence in the pop culture scene since he started making waves over four decades ago. 

Many celebrities are known from one avenue of fame, and their other ventures and interests can easily be seen as side hustles. Marin, on the other hand, is a rare beast who has been both an edgy counter-culture figure and a family-friendly artist ... among other things. Over the years, this has turned him into an incredibly versatile figure that can happily pop up in virtually any project, and people just nod and go, "Yep, that's Cheech, all right." Of course, Marin's ability to do whatever he feels like can make it difficult to form a complete picture about his life and times. Let's correct that by taking a deep dive into the untold truth of Cheech Marin.

Cheech Marin was born with a cleft lip

As an actor and musician, Cheech Marin has made his name with his voice and face. As such, some might find it quite surprising that he was born with a cleft lip (via Cleft Smile). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines cleft lip and its sister condition, cleft palate, as "birth defects that occur when a baby's lip or mouth do not form properly during pregnancy." This can leave a potentially nasty gash on the person's upper lip or palate, which can create all sorts of communication and eating problems unless it's repaired. Fortunately, Marin's cleft was fixed, and judging by the lack of noticeable scarring in his upper lip, it's probably safe to assume that the operation was quite successful. 

As an interesting coincidence, actor Stacy Keach — Marin's co-star in Cheech & Chong films Up in Smoke and Nice Dreams – went through a similar ordeal as a child. Keach has told the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association that he was also born with a cleft. In his case, it required four surgeries to fix.

How Cheech Marin got his nickname

"Cheech" is a very strange moniker, so while the world has gotten used to the name Cheech Marin, it's probably not a huge surprise that it isn't the entertainer's given name. In a 2017 interview with NPR, he revealed that he received the curious call sign very early on, courtesy of his uncle. "Cheech is my nickname," he said. "It always has been, in my family — short for chicharrón. ... You know, pork rinds. When I came home from the hospital, I was like a couple days old or something, my uncle came over and he looked in the crib and he said, 'Ay, parece un chicharrón.' Looks like a little chicharrón, you know?"

While that may seem like a harsh name to impose on a baby, it turned out to mesh very well with his future comedy partner, Tommy Chong. Then again, Marin might just harbor a tiny bit of unspoken resentment toward his lifelong nickname, considering the fact that he named his memoir Cheech Is Not My Real Name ... But Don't Call Me Chong. Oh, and in case you're curious, Marin's actual first name is Richard. 

He can't really speak Spanish all that well

The strong accent Cheech Marin employs in his roles may make some assume that he's bilingual, or possibly even speaking English as a second language. However, in an interview with The Bend Mag, he noted that the Spanish language actually isn't a massive part of his toolkit. "I grew up in neighborhoods where there weren't very many Mexicans," he said. "And so I was always 'the Mexican' and I always thought, 'well I am not Mexican. I have never even been to Mexico and I don't speak Spanish.'" 

As History tells us, the term "Chicano" started out as an unfortunate racial slur, but the Chicano Movement of the 1960s saw the Mexican-American community reclaim the term for itself. Marin identifies strongly with the Chicano culture, but as he's stated in a blog post on his website, he remained an exclusive English speaker even though many of his relatives spoke Spanish well.   

Despite this, Marin has made it clear that he understands and appreciates the importance of languages, and has in fact studied Spanish as an adult. Still, considering that he was in his 70s during the aforementioned Bend Mag interview, he seems to largely consider himself a non-speaker.  

Cheech Marin tried to become the singer in Frank Zappa's band

Even people who are familiar with Cheech Marin's work might not be aware that he was once close to becoming a very different counterculture icon. According to the Los Angeles Times, the comedian once attempted to join Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention.

The year was 1968, and Zappa was auditioning singers for his peculiar doo-wop project, Cruising with Ruben & The Jets. Along came Marin, who later recalled the experience in the liner notes of Zappa compilation album Greasy Love Songs. "There was already an audition going on in the living room, but it was for guitar players. Don Van Vliet, otherwise known as Captain Beefheart, was running through guitar players for his band. Frank nodded to me and indicated that I should chill. He was sooo cool. He was Frank Zappa ..."

The evidently star-struck Marin hung on until Beefheart wrapped up, and when his turn came, he actually managed to impress Zappa — or, at least, he thinks he did. "I started to sing. One of the consistent things I can do as a singer is stay on key. This seemed to please Mr. Zappa because he nodded in time." Still, unfortunately for young Martin but fortunately for the concept of comedy, Zappa ultimately wasn't quite excited enough to hire him, and the two men moved on to create their separate legacies. 

Cheech and Chong unite

It's difficult to talk about Cheech Marin's legacy without mentioning Tommy Chong, his longtime partner in comedy. As the New York Post tells us, Cheech & Chong met when the Los Angeleno Marin moved to Chong's native Canada in order to avoid the Vietnam War. Chong had a fondness for improvisational comedy, and since both men were musical and funny, they decided to team up. 

Though their famous stoner characters were technically called Pedro and Man, the pair remains best known as simply Cheech & Chong. The two counter-culture icons went on to make numerous music albums and stoner comedies, and as Chong told the Calgary Herald in 2016, they blazed the trail for many future entertainment icons. As such, he says they command a lot of respect in the industry. "More than anything, I see the influence in the movie industry," he talked about Cheech & Chong's legacy. "I know we influenced the hell out of Quentin Tarantino. He even admits it, talking about watching Cheech & Chong movies over and over again. Cheech really created the Chicano persona — you know, George Lopez and [Paul] Rodriguez and all those guys."

Cheech and Chong had a rollercoaster relationship

Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong seemed like the world's most laid-back comedy duo, but in reality, the two started drifting apart as the years went by. Per CBS News, the pair met near the end of the 1960s, and steadily built their act until their movies started making waves a decade later. Unfortunately, their relationship soured over time, and in 1987 Marin broke out on his own. 

In an interview with the New York Post, Marin makes it clear that as far as he's concerned, the rift between the pair was largely caused by the way Chong let the fame go in his head, became too controlling, and was unable to evolve beyond his "Man" character. "He didn't accomplish it. He was stuck," Marin describes Chong's attempts to break away from his Cheech & Chong persona. This, Marin said, led to Chong trying to keep him back, as well. "He just couldn't do it, but he still wanted to cling onto me and control me, and that wasn't working." 

Regardless of the reasons the pair originally strayed apart, they reunited in 2008 and started touring again. Though they had their difficulties at first, at least the worst of their old troubles seem to be water under the bridge.

Cheech goes solo

As CBS News tells us, Cheech Marin left Tommy Chong in 1987 to embark on what has turned out to be a truly illustrious solo entertainment career. As Marin himself put it, the film he directed, wrote and starred in that year, Born in East L.A., essentially "kicked off the rest of my life." 

A look at Marin's IMDb profile reveals that the man's filmography is indeed truly expansive and many-faceted. Apart from the expected comedy appearances, he's also appeared in plenty of serious projects. In fact, one of his most famous post-Cheech & Chong roles was in the CBS police procedural Nash Bridges, in which he starred opposite Don Johnson for a cool six seasons. Apart from acting in a multitude of roles, Marin has also capitalized his highly recognizable voice into an illustrious voice-acting career. You can even hear him in numerous Disney and Pixar movies, from The Lion King (in which he voices Banzai the hyena) to the Cars franchise (Ramone the lowrider), and Coco.    

Cheech and Robert Rodriguez

As fans of Robert Rodriguez movies know, if you put on one of the director's films you have a fairly decent chance to spot Cheech Martin before long. As Martin's IMDb page reveals, he and Rodriguez are super-frequent collaborators — and while you can spot the comedian in the director's family-friendly Spy Kids franchise, he also appears in much of Rodriguez's bloodier fare, such as Desperado, From Dusk till Dawn, and Machete. 

As Marin has told the Latin Post, he's witnessed Rodriguez's rise to the higher plateaus of Hollywood from the director's humble student film beginnings, and has relished the experience. He was initially wary of joining Rodriguez's movies, thinking that his goofy artistic reputation wouldn't match the director's splatter aesthetic. However, Rodriguez's Spy Kids side won the actor over. 

Rodriguez and Marin are more than just common collaborators — they're actually great friends in real life. "Robert and I were friends from the beginning," Marin said. "He would come over the house with his wife and stay with me, he's like family. He knew that he could always call on me if he needed this or that. We have this direct communication. [...] He's looking through the lens, the viewfinder and he's talking to me."

Cheech Marin, children's musician

Cheech Marin can sing. That's a pretty instrumental part of his comedic act with Tommy Chong. However, you might think that there are limits to what the man will sing about. After all, he's pretty rooted in stoner comedy, so surely he wouldn't suddenly record, say, a children's album. 

Except for the time when he did precisely that, per Lynne Heffley of the Los Angeles Times. The year was 1992, and the comedian released My Name Is Cheech the School Bus DriverThe children's concept album is very much what the title promises: Marin plays a bus driver who launches into new, imaginative, and educational songs whenever a new young passenger steps in the vehicle. The combination of Marin's very recognizable voice and the content might seem curious, but according to Heffley, it works. Presumably, it didn't hurt his later career too much, either. While My Name Is Cheech the School Bus Driver may not be destined to be the work Marin is primarily remembered for, it's easy to imagine that having a quality album of children's music in his résumé wasn't exactly a bad thing when he started getting those Disney voice roles later down the line. 

Cheech Marin is an esteemed art collector

Should one be in the habit of assuming that comedians are the same as their best-known characters, it could come as quite a surprise that Cheech Marin is a patron of the arts. In fact, he's quite a bit more than just a casual patron, if the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art, Culture & Industry is anything to go by ... which it is. Based in the Riverside Art Museum in California, the center is the home base of Marin's art collection, which the center says is nothing more or less than "the finest private collection of Chicano art in the United States." Per the San Diego Union Tribune, Marin also has a number of art books to his name, and he's very active in the art community. Though many of his pieces are displayed in "The Cheech," parts of the collection are often loaned to other museums and galleries. 

In an interview with NPR, Marin has noted that his affinity with Chicano art and his comedy career have quite a bit in common. "It is very much like Chicano art," he said about Cheech & Chong's brand of comedy. "It is sophisticated and primitive simultaneously. The scenes would play out and ... the comedy would be absorbed rather than having it jammed down [your throat]." 

Cheech Marin loves jazz

Cheech Marin is a great many things, and some of them you'd never guess just by looking at his body of work. For instance, the San Diego Union Tribune reveals that the stoner comedy icon is an absolutely massive fan of jazz music, a trait he shares with his long-term comedy partner Tommy Chong. In fact, Marin feels that the music's improvisational nature is similar to Cheech & Chong's particular brand of comedy. 

As weird as it is to imagine Cheech & Chong rocking out to, say, jazz legend Miles Davis when the audiences aren't looking, it gets even weirder: Marin had the honor of running into Davis at a small sushi bar once, only to find out that the musician recognized him. "He had dark black glasses on," Marin remembers the chance meeting. "He saw me at the bar — I had never met him — and he took off his glasses, and said: 'Hey, Weed!' That was cool. Miles Davis said 'Hey, Weed!' to me."

He's tight with other famous marijuana-using celebrities

The entertainment industry has a few famous people who have accomplished great things, but whose reputations are nigh-equally defined by their fondness of a certain herb. Apart from Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, these include names like hip-hop megastar Snoop Dogg and outlaw country founding father Willie Nelson — and, according to the San Diego Union Tribune, they all like to hang out together. 

When the outlet asked whether Cheech & Chong are in the habit of sitting down with Nelson and Snoop, Marin happily confirmed this. "We do it all the time. As a matter of fact, we were just with Snoop [on an episode] of his TV remake of The Joker's Wild, and we smoked all his weed." What's more, all four members of the quartet have their own marijuana product lines, and Marin says they "try to exchange products as much as we can."

Cheech Marin is an avid golfer

In an interview with the San Diego Union Tribune, Cheech Marin revealed something that one might not expect from him based on his laid-back, counter-culture comedian persona: He's an avid golfer. Per Predator Ridge, Marin picked up the hobby after playing Kevin Costner's caddie in 1996's Tin Cup, and has evidently become pretty good. Golf Digest has named him the 31st best celebrity golfer in Hollywood, and in 2013, he actually landed his first hole in one. His website notes that he's fond of haunting charity tournaments.

Interestingly, Marin apparently shares his love of golf with another famous marijuana aficionado, Willie Nelson. According to the comedian, the country star has even managed to marry his two favorite hobbies. "Willie, every time I see him, gives me a bag of weed. It's the best golf weed," Marin told. When asked to elaborate, he was happy to reveal why: "Well, you can smoke it and still play golf! You get into the Zen of it."