Squeaking springs pierce the air in the garage of Tommy Chong’s stately home in L.A.’s Pacific Palisades. Dressed in a pair of cuffed blue jeans, a black tee, a dark grey button-up, and black and red high-top Nikes—a youthful skate style that his late guitarist friend and collaborator Gaye Delorme turned him onto—the white haired 77-year-old comedian, actor, writer, director, musician, activist, and stoner icon is illustrating how to use a funky exercise contraption he built 20 years ago to train his legs for mogul skiing. Holding his torso erect, he simulates the movement of skiing over quick, bumpy courses by pushing down vigorously on an old skateboard deck suspended from a pipe frame by four metal coils. On the floor next to him lay 40- and 50-lb. dumbbells. Chong, who started lifting weights when he was 16 and played hockey into his late 60s, says he works out every other day.
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.”
As vibrant and good-humored as Chong is, mortality is on his mind this morning. The world has just learned that David Bowie, another influential countercultural icon, has succumbed to liver cancer. Chong believes our spirits “travel to the next incarnation,” but there remains much that he wants to do before departing from his body. Sharing the many smoking apparatuses that he crafts and displays in his garage workspace, from kombucha bottle bongs to elegant hand-carved pipes, in an art exhibit is one such goal. “I’ll be the Andy Warhol of bongs,” he jokes. He has no timeframe for such a show, just a sense that the clock is ticking. “I got to do it before I die,” Chong says. “When I heard about David Bowie it gave me a little kick in the butt to get going. We don’t have that much time.”
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).
Click here to read the rest.