With a new lease on life following his second bout with cancer, as well as a new cannabis line, the marijuana icon and activist isn’t close to burning out.
Were it not for the beige ostomy pouch cover that occasionally peeks out as his shirt rises, Chong would seem the picture of senior health. He’s worn the pouch since last October, when he had surgery to remove a rectal tumor and reroute his colon. A vocal Bernie Sanders supporter, he jokingly refers to his new waste disposal accessory as “The Donald,” because, like Trump, “it’s always full of hot air and bullshit.” The anatomical transformation causes depression in some patients, but Chong doesn’t appear to be masking any underlying discomfort with his humor. “I don’t mind it at all, other than the cosmetic thing,” he says. “But my wife doesn’t appreciate it. She’s like, ‘Your bag is showing.’ It’s a trip. It’s almost like a sex change operation, because all of a sudden now, I’m spotting like women do. It’s like Tampax. I don’t use a toilet, I don’t sit down, ever. I kind of miss that. That used to be my meditation period.”
Whatever else he accomplishes in his life, Thomas B. Kin Chong, born in 1938 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has already made a more profound impact upon society than most people ever will. His classic 1970s and ’80s comedy albums and films like Up in Smoke (1978), Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie (1980), and Nice Dreams (1981), as one half of the duo Cheech and Chong, with Richard “Cheech” Marin, focused heavily on their enjoyment of marijuana, as well as the criminalization of the plant and related paranoia, particularly for non-white smokers (Chong is half Chinese, Marin is Mexican American). A beloved outlaw entertainer, Chong has used his platform to promote marijuana’s medical and recreational values and to fight for its decriminalization. In 2003, he became a marijuana martyr when a government sting focused on drug paraphernalia targeted him as the famous face and financier of his son Paris Chong’s glass bong and pipe company. To prevent his son and his wife, comedian and actress Shelby Chong, from being prosecuted, he signed a plea deal and served nine months in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute drug paraphernalia. He was curiously the only first-time offender caught up in “Operation Pipe Dreams” to go to prison (Chong plans to petition President Obama for a pardon).
“IT’S LIKE STEVE JOBS WHEN HE WAS MAKING COMPUTERS. THE THRILL OF KNOWING THAT YOU WERE THE ONE WHO DID IT—THAT’S ALL THE REWARD YOU NEED.”
“US GURUS, WE DON’T
GET STRESSED OUT.”