Who would you imagine fits this personality profile? It was an insightful experience as well an honor being a meeting Mr. Tommy B. Kin Chong. We know that in the 1960’s Tommy was the “Straight Man” to the comedy duo Cheech and Chong who became the cannabis consumer compadre. It was the touchstone to relating to the once underground community of tokers. The “puff and pass syndrome” was coming to light and our inspiration to continue, was supported by listening to their albums while sitting in a bean bag chair within a tight circle of friends. But have we truly acknowledged the diverse depth of Tommy’s talent, creativity, spiritual being and intelligence?
Tommy was born in Alberta, Canada to humble beginnings. His father immigrated from China and first resided in Vancouver with an aunt. He served in the Army during WWII. Because of an injury while serving in the army it was necessary to relocate to Calgary, near a VA Hospital. Tommy’s dad Stanley Chong, found a career as a truck driver, which took him away from home frequently. Chong’s mother Lorna Jean Gilchrist was of Irish Scottish descent. During Tommy’s early years his mother sadly contracted Tuberculosis and spent four years in a hospital during his adolescence. At one point, Chong himself was susceptible to TB and was hospitalized for nine months. He says his first memories are of being in a hospital. Although he spent time being sick as a child, his family gave him a sense of belonging.
His mix of friends included an array of Canadian Native Indians, Africans and peace seeking American Draft escapees. He found camaraderie and observed life with an open perspective. He was inspired by music, had a guitar available and soon found an outlet to create music. But not many others had instruments in his neighborhood, so for a time, creating music was a solo effort. Tommy also discovered how being a guitar player made him popular with the ladies, which was a plus for an introspective half-Chinese guy. The first person he collaborated with was a fiddle player. That was the only person in his area who had an instrument, and a new country band was born. Soon, other collaborations came his way and rock n’ soul music became his true genre of choice.
Being a musician allowed Chong’s innate business talents to emerge. He negotiated the contracts between venues and the band. Tommy states, in his deep low voice, “I dropped out of Crescent Heights High School when I was 16, but they were going to throw me out anyway… and I played guitar to make money.”
By the early 1960’s, Chong was playing guitar for a Calgary soul group called The Shades. The band’s name was inspired by the diverse racial mix of the group’s band members. The Shades then relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia, and changed their name to Little Daddy & The Bachelors.
With his bandmate, Bobby Taylor, Tommy had the opportunity to open a nightclub in 1963 and called it “Blue Balls.” One of the acts they brought in was the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Little Daddy & The Bachelors even recorded a song called, “Too Much Monkey Business,” and with a few band name changes, finally decided on Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers. At this time, he got married to Maxine Sneed and had two children, Ray Dawn and Robbi and were together till 1970.
His music career was taking off and the band signed with a division of Motown Records in 1965. They had a single that Tommy co-wrote, “Does Your Mama Know About Me,” that made it to number 29 on the Billboard Top 100. While on tour in Chicago, an up and coming new group opened for them, The Jackson 5. But to their dismay, Chong was fired by the record company when he missed an appointment to get a Green Card. Receiving a Green Card was going to assist in moving to America and furthering their impact on the music industry. The Vancouvers broke up shortly after that, proving to be the best thing for Tommy’s future.
One of Tommy’s acquaintances was Cheech Marin, who was living in Canada to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War. A partnership was made as an eclectic comedy duo, whose fascination with the marijuana lifestyle came to light. The topic of cannabis was not normally made available to the mainstream, and Cheech & Chong introduced it to the Baby Boomers generation, making its commonplace a reality. Chong co-wrote and performed on the Cheech & Chong comedy albums, two of which were nominated for Best Comedy Album Grammy Awards. He also directed the duo’s films, while co-writing and starring in all seven of the pair’s films with Cheech Marin. Tommy’s favorite film he made is “Still Smoking” as it highlights their on stage comedy act.
Cheech & Chong, while a very successful comedy duo, split in 1985, as Marin’s desire to expand his acting career became his calling for varying roles. Tommy found a diverse direction and found acting opportunities himself, continuing his repertoire of film, TV and stage. Some of those roles over the past few years include the Disney animated film Zootopia, as a yak named Yax, a hippie in Dharma and Greg, and an appearance on Franklin & Bash. Other TV and film roles include Miami Vice, South Park, George Lopez, Raising Hope, The Millers, Uncle Grand Pa, Nash Bridges, George Carlin Show, Half Baked, Senior Trip, a/k/a Tommy, the documentary about Chong’s comedic life and a new upcoming film It’s Gawd.
An acting role that brought Tommy from the popularity of the 70s to the 2000s was the TV show That 70’s Show, in which Chong played “Leo” the aging hippie with wit and amusement. It was reminiscent of his Chong character from Cheech & Chong days. With that role, Tommy found a new generation of Gen X fans who appreciated his character and the relation to the cannabis lifestyle. He was hip and acceptable on mainstream television. The show ran from 1998 to 2006, and he participated in all seasons except for 2004 and 2005 due to his unfortunate visit to federal detention.
Which brings us to this time in Tommy’s life that many thought was a sheer trumped up charge or a fabrication of hysteria. Mary Beth Buchanan a Federal prosecutor was part of the Federal Operation Pipe Dreams and Operation Headhunter. The cost for this program was 12 million dollars and 55 companies that sold paraphernalia were the targets. Some of Tommy’s family members were a part of the company Nice Dreams, which sold bongs to consumers. The charges for distributing drug paraphernalia were directed at Nice Dreams. Incredulously, it was Chong that they chose to personally prosecute. A request for home detention was denied, and Tommy was federally incarcerated for nine months. This was during the time of being contracted to That 70’s Show, and he was able to return for the last season of the show to a great welcome back.
Soon afterwards, Chong started touring shows with Cheech Marin they found a vast new audience with the realization the popularity of cannabis lifestyle was growing. The number of states soon allowing more medical and recreational cannabis access were increasing. Tommy was asked to be on the Advisory Board for National Organization Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML). People view him as one of the warriors of the movement. He contributes to Cannabis Culture Magazine on various topics such as supporting the growing awareness of the culture of cannabis.
In 2012, Tommy was diagnosed with prostate cancer and began a regime of medical cannabis oil to assist with his recovery. It was a slow moving disease for him, and by mid-July 2012 Chong announced that he was cancer free. Tommy’s focused and spiritual sense of being, seems to have guided him through his journey to becoming a fighter and survivor.
With the social tides flowing in a positive direction, one of the top network celebrity competition TV shows, Dancing With The Stars came calling for Tommy in 2014. He was paired with the beautiful and talented professional dancer bombshell Peta Murgatroyd. Week after week of grueling competition, America’s vote was in Chong’s favor. His fans were voting not only for him, but others saw his drive, talent and entertaining qualities. His finesse on the dance floor was exciting, and the Chong Dancing Charm came through.. soon Tommy was in the semifinals. He is now noted as the oldest contestant (at 78) to make it to the semifinals. Alas, he didn’t win, but his outreach garnered new fans and mainstream America got to learn more about his brave advocacy for the right to use cannabis.
When in his presence, Tommy’s down-to-earth comfort comes as a peaceful exchange. The focused gaze feels as if he seeks to find out who you are, on a deeper level than normal conversation. It has been noted that when anyone approaches Tommy he is always open with a sincere smile on his face. This kind of respect for the human spirit connects, as if to say, “We are here to share, exchange and respect.” I appreciated our time together and I was touched by Chong’s spiritual energy in his exchange with us. Tommy shared a lesson in humbleness, in a conversation about his approachability. Earlier in his career, he had an experience that guided his future interactions to the present day.
Cheech & Chong’s career had taken off, and they were being courted to rub elbows with top entertainment industry stars. They received an invitation to an exclusive Hollywood party with many A-List celebrities in attendance. Tommy saw, none other than Jack Nicholson himself. He walked up to him, praised him and asked a question regarding a role Jack played in a movie Chong loved. Nicolson was oddly silent, stood back and gave Tommy a steely-eyed stare, possibly filled with disdain. Nicolson then turned his back and walked away without a word. The moment was deeply etched into Tommy’s mind and soul. That another person could be so detached from a friendly exchange, was so wrong, he vowed to never disregard and treat another human being that way….ever! You will see Chong always waving, smiling, and acknowledging each and every person who calls out to him, and this is a rare attribute for a person of his caliber. He said to us, “Every person has a story,” reinforcing the Golden Rule; treat others how you want to be treated.
On a disappointing note, it was found that Chong had contracted colorectal cancer in June of 2015. This particular cancer is similar to what the actress, Farrah Fawcett, was diagnosed with. Through using cannabis, and other healing modalities, Tommy has shared that he is once again cancer free. Chong attributes his 2015 fight with cancer to the stress and toll taken on him while filming DWTS. He continues to pave the way with his brave and bold path as a Guru of Cannabis, sharing the knowledge of this amazing God-given plant. Tommy’s theory on cannabis is that marijuana calms the mind, and when the mind is calm, the body can heal.
Chong’s Choice is a cannabis product line of the finest high quality items. Let’s face it, if anyone knows cannabis products it’s Tommy Chong! He attends many festivals, expos for both consumers and business-to-business. With Tommy’s keen insight and sharp intelligence, his products are bound to succeed. Items include vape cartridges, pre-rolls, glass jars of eighths to name a few. Visit their website at www.chongschoice.com for more information.
Tommy Chong’s many talents include intelligence, creativity and a good golf game to boot. At a point in his young musical journey, Tommy met a young woman named Shelby Fiddes who became his muse. She inspired, supported and guided him through a myriad of things that were happening in his life. Today, Tommy and Shelby are still together along with their four grown children Paris, Precious, Gilbran and Marcus. He is a humble man who honors Jesus as someone he most admires. If given a moment of contemplation, a session with Sativa appreciation is the choice of Chong.
Who really knew about the depth of this Master of Cannabis Culture. Nowhere was there the “Hey Dude” syndrome. It was an honor of one’s spiritual path, where the highest regards to this natural healing plant was a common ground. An exciting time during this meeting was sparked by learning of his cooking experiment with infused kumquats, when asked what his favorite edible was. Please Tommy, I want to taste your kumquat culinary delight! Tommy Chong is also revered by many as an advocate, activist, comedian, businessman, musician, entrepreneur and writer. When asked what he enjoyed doing the most in his long list of accomplishments, the look of Yoda came through his twinkling eyes and Tommy shared, “Dancing.” Chong was most proud of sharing himself as a dancer, his grace, poise, drive and musicality of dance on the dance floor and in life itself.