Tommy Chong is a comedian, actor, musician, and activist of Canadian and American nationality. He is also well-known for his Cheech & Chong comedy albums and films, such as Big Bambu (1972), Up in the Smoke (1978), and Nice Dream (1981) which all feature marijuana as a central topic.
Throughout his life, Tommy has been married twice. First to Maxine Sneed between 1960 and 1970 and then to American actress, Shelby Chong in 1975. He is a father of 6 and some of his kids have also trailed the entertainment path.
Meet Tommy Chong
Tommy was originally born as Thomas B. Kin Chong on May 24, 1938, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His mother was a Canadian of Scottish and Irish ancestry and he has said as a child, he went through a separation from his mother at the age of three because she had TB. Also, he said during that time, he was hospitalized because he had pleurisy.
Meanwhile, his father was Chinese and immigrated in the 1930s. The senior Chong had initially resided with an aunt in Vancouver, a significant western Canadian city, after coming to Canada.
He later got married and bought a $500 house in Dog Patch where he raised his family on $50 a week. Apart from Thomas, senior Chong had another son named Stan who passed in 2018.
Meanwhile, Tommy Chong has said his father was involved in World War II and he returned home injured. During that period, he had to put Tommy and his siblings in an orphanage like a Salvation Army home.
He also said his family was very poor and they did not even have electricity so they had to use wood stove and Coleman lamps.
Tommy Chong dropped out of high school at 16
Chong spoke about leaving Crescent Heights High School at age 16 in an interview. He then started playing the guitar to earn money. This would be the commencement of Tommy’s entertainment career.
He Made His Career Debut in 1962
Chong began playing guitar for the Shades, a Calgary soul group, at the beginning of the 1960s. The band’s name was altered to “Little Daddy & the Bachelors” when The Shades relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia. The group recorded singles like Too Much Monkey Business and Junior’s Jerk. Moreover, together with band member Bobby Taylor, Chong opened a Vancouver nightclub in 1963.
The Vancouvers later secured a contract with Gordy Records, a division of Motown Records in Detroit, in 1965. Their debut single, Does Your Mama Know About Me, which was co-written by Tommy Chong peaked at no 29 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In order to apply for green cards so they could become residents of the United States, Chong and bandmate Wes Henderson missed a Friday night performance after the group recorded two extra singles. Because Chong arrived late to the gig, Chris Clark and Motown producer Johnny Bristol sacked him. Chong later stated that he wanted to remain fired when Berry Gordy informed him that he had been mistakenly sacked and wasn’t fired.
Soon after, when Chong attempted to limit the number of players covered by the Vancouvers’ contract, the group broke up. He planned for the ensemble to include him, Taylor, and Henderson, with the other members serving as sidemen and studio musicians.
He later joined Marin to form Cheech & Chong
Tommy teamed up with Cheech Marin to form Cheech & Chong after his band disbanded. The entertainers met in the late 1960s, in Vancouver, British Columbia. At the height of the Vietnam War, Cheech had relocated to Canada, where Chong was a citizen, in order to avoid being drafted. The duo appeared in a number of low-budget movies, performed stand-up comedy, and made numerous popular comedy record albums like Earache My Eye, Basketball Jones, and Sister Mary Elephant.
With their stand-up routines, studio records, and feature films centered on the hippie and free love era, drugs, and counterculture movements, Cheech & Chong earned commercial and cultural success in the 1970s and 1980s.
Up in Smoke, their first full-length film was released in 1978, and it was the pinnacle of their early career. Despite having a small budget, it managed to earn over $44 million at the box office, becoming somewhat of a cult classic.
After a contentious breakup in 1985, the pair went years without collaborating. The two did, however, collaborate once again in 1992, lending their voices to characters in the animated movie FernGully: The Last Rainforest.
Following Cheech & Chong, Tommy created The Martinez Family, a CBS unsold pilot that was later remade as the 1988 sitcom Trial and Error. He was also the director, writer, and star of the 1990 film Far Out Man.
Tommy has since gone on to star in a number of movies and TV shows, with That ’90s Show (2023) being his most recent project.
Tommy’s Marriages and Kids
In 1960, Chong got married to Maxine Sneed, and their union produced two daughters, Robbi Chong and Rae Dawn Chong. However, as a result of their 1970 divorce, their marriage barely lasted ten years.
Chong moved on to marry Shelby Fiddis, an American comedian and actress, in Los Angeles in 1975. Paris, Gilbran, and Precious Chong were their three children. Also, the couple adopted another child, Marcus Wyatt in 1978. Chong’s children, Rae Dawn, Robbi, Marcus, Paris, and Precious Chong have each pursued careers in acting.
Chong is a Cancer Survivor
On June 9, 2012, Chong made the announcement that he was fighting prostate cancer. He described his cancer as having been there for a long time and being in a weak stage. He added that he had been drug-free for roughly three years at the time he started experiencing issues with his prostate.
Interestingly, Chong tweeted on July 15, 2012, that he was “99% cancer-free and that the hemp oil treatment he had been utilizing to treat his disease had been successful. But on June 16, 2015, Chong said that he had been given a colon cancer diagnosis and was using marijuana heavily to get through his treatment. Similarly, Tommy Chong is a proponent of the legalization of marijuana. He also serves on the NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) advisory board and often contributes to Cannabis Culture Magazine.
Meanwhile, in 2019, Chong announced that he was cancer-free and he opined that stress could have been a cause of his condition.
The Entertainer has been Involved in Several Controversies and Legal Issues
Along with other controversies, Chong was involved in two American investigations in 2003 called Operation Pipe Dreams and Operation Headhunter, which sought to identify drug users and traffickers by looking into stores that sold bongs and other drug paraphernalia.
He faced charges for his involvement in supporting and promoting his son Paris’s business, ‘Chong Glass/Nice Dreams.’ His lawyer worked out a plea deal with the office of the US Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, so his case was never tried in court. He acknowledged using Nice Dreams to sell 7,500 bongs and water pipes online.
In her arguments for Chong’s sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary McKeen Houghton for Western Pennsylvania claimed that Chong used his public image to promote this crime and targeted minors with his advertising.
At his sentencing, Tommy requested home detention and community service; however, district judge Arthur J. Schwab turned down his requests and gave him a sentence of 9 months in federal prison, a $20,000 fine, $103,514 in forfeiture, and the loss of all goods seized during the raid on his business. From October 8, 2003, until July 7, 2004, Chong was housed at the Taft Correctional Institution to complete his sentence.