Thomas B. Kin “Tommy” Chong (born May 24, 1938) is a Canadian-American comedian, actor, writer, director, activist, and musician. He is well known for his marijuana-themed Cheech & Chong comedy movies with Cheech Marin, as well as playing the character Leo on Fox‘s That ’70s Show.
Chong was born as Thomas B. Kin Chong at University Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta. His mother was Lorna Jean (née Gilchrist), a waitress of Scots-Irish and French ancestry, and his father was Stanley Chong, a Chinese truck driver who emigrated to Canada from China in the 1920s, where he first lived with his aunt in Vancouver. While he was still young, Chong’s family moved to Calgary, Alberta to a conservative neighbourhood Chong refers to as the Dog Patch. He says that his father had “been wounded in World War II, and there was a veterans’ hospital in Calgary. He bought a five-hundred dollar house in Dog Patch, and raised his family on fifty dollars a week.” He later dropped out of Crescent Heights High School in Calgary, Alberta. “I dropped out of Crescent Heights High School when I was 16 but probably just before they were going to throw me out anyway,” Chong laughs as he reminisces about his early years. “I played guitar to make money. I was about 16 when I discovered that music could get you laid, even if you were a scrawny, long-haired, geeky-looking guy like me.”
By the early 1960s, Chong was playing guitar for a Calgary soul group called The Shades. The Shades moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where the band’s name changed to “Little Daddy & The Bachelors”. They recorded a single, “Too Much Monkey Business” / “Junior’s Jerk”. Together with bandmember Bobby Taylor, Chong opened a Vancouver nightclub in 1963. Formerly the Alma Theatre, they called it “Blue Balls”. They brought in the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, which had never been to Vancouver before. Although Little Daddy & The Bachelors built up a small following, things soured when they went with Chong’s suggestion and had themselves billed as “Four Niggers and a Chink“. (or, bowing to pressure, “Four N’s and a C”) before taking on the monikerBobby Taylor & the Vancouvers.
In 1965, the Vancouvers signed with Gordy Records (a subsidiary of Detroit, Michigan‘s Motown Records) and recorded its debut album, an eponymous release, and their debut single, the Tommy Chong co-composition “Does Your Mama Know About Me,” peaked at number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100. While on tour in Chicago for a short time, the band followed opening act The Jackson 5. Chong later referred to the young Michael Jackson as a “cute little guy”. After the band released two further singles, Tommy Chong and Wes Henderson were fired by Clark and Motown producer Johnny Bristol for missing a gig to apply for Green cards. The group broke up shortly afterwards, when Chong attempted to have the Vancouvers’ contract halved, so that he, Taylor, and Henderson would constitute the group, while other members would simply be regarded as sidemen and session artists.
Cheech & Chong, while a very successful comedy act, experienced creative differences and split in 1985. This was devastating to Chong. To him,Cheech Marin was “closer than a wife. The only thing we didn’t do was have sex.” Of their split, he says, “It was like a death in the family. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it”. Chong was a recurring character and later a regular character as the hippie “Leo” during the second, third, fourth, seventh, and eighth seasons of That ’70s Show. He also played a role as a hippie in Dharma and Greg. In a 2001 episode of That ’70s Show, “Canadian Road Trip”, Chong gave tribute to his home country by joining in a spirited rendition of O Canada along with the teenage cast and two Canadian border patrol guards (Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas).
Chong was originally going to voice the character of Shenzi, the hyena in the Disney film The Lion King, which would have had him performing once more with Cheech Marin, who voiced Banzai. (The Shenzi character was later changed to be female, and voiced instead by Whoopi Goldberg.) In September 2005 a/k/a Tommy Chong premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary, produced, written and directed by Josh Gilbert, chronicles Chong’s comedic and personal history, and his prosecution by the Justice Department. The project features interviews with Cheech Marin, Bill Maher, George Thorogood, Peter Coyote, Lou Adler, Eric Schlosser and Jay Leno. In 2011 he appeared in an ironic role as a Judge in an episode of Franklin & Bash, who took an extremely strict position on a marijuana holder.[citatio
Chong was married to his first wife, Maxine Sneed, from 1960 until their divorce in 1970, with whom he had two daughters, Robbi and Rae Dawn. He married his second wife Shelby Fiddis in 1975. He has three children with her, sons Paris and Gilbran, and a daughter, Precious Chong. He is also the adoptive father of actor Marcus Chong. Robbi, Rae Dawn, Marcus and Precious have pursued careers in acting. In the late 1980s, Chong became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Rae Dawn Chong is also a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Tommy Chong is a marijuana activist and is a supporter of the use of marijuana. He is a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture Magazine and sits on the NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) advisory board.
He announced on June 9, 2012 he is battling prostate cancer. He described the cancer “as a slow stage one (that I’ve) had for a long time.” He said that he was drug free for about three years, during which time he began having prostate-related problems.
On July 15, 2012 Chong tweeted that the hemp oil he has been using to treat his cancer is working and that “he is 99% cancer free”.
While government officials denied that Chong was treated any differently from the other defendants, many felt that he was made an example of by the government. The San Francisco Chroniclereported Chong’s publicist Brandie Knight as saying the Chong family was shocked by the raid. “We’ve done everything the right way, and the government is saying there is no right way,” Knight said. Soon afterwards, civil rights advocates started the Free Tommy Chong! movement that called for his release. The controversy over Chong’s prosecution centered on the rationale behind focusing on Tommy as opposed to his son, Paris, the disparity in sentences that Tommy Chong received compared to other defendants, and the tactics that the DEA used in carrying out the investigation.
Paris, Tommy’s son, had started Nice Dreams in 1999. At the time of the allegations in the indictment, Paris was the CEO of the company that was the center of the investigation. Paris was never charged with a crime in relation to the investigation. When asked why the government had focused on Tommy as opposed to the company’s CEO, Paris, US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan responded that “Tommy Chong was the more responsible corporate officer because he financed and marketed the product.”
Of the 55 people targeted in the investigation, Chong was the only one without previous convictions who received jail time. When questioned on the disparity between sentences/fines that the other 54 individuals received compared to Chong, US Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan stated, “He (Tommy Chong) wasn’t the biggest supplier. He was a relatively new player, but he had the ability to market products like no other.”
In investigating the operations of Nice Dreams, federal agents posed as head-shop owners from Pittsburgh’s suburban Beaver County and pled with Paris to sell them his pipes through the mail to a fictitious shop in suburban Beaver Falls. Paris had set in place a company prohibition against selling to Pittsburgh or anywhere in Western Pennsylvania. The prohibition was put in place in response to the successful federal prosecution of Akhil Kumar Mishra and his wife, Rajeshwari, whose two head shops sold drug paraphernalia in the city’s downtown. To date, it is unclear how the prohibition was broken and there exist differing accounts as to who broke the company policy which resulted in the action that brought about the ability of the US Attorney to argue that jurisdiction for the crime rests in Pittsburgh opposed to California, the base of operations for Nice Dreams. Tommy Chong has stated publicly that it was a Federal Agent posing as an employee of his son’s company who accepted and processed the order that resulted in the prosecution.
Since his release, Chong has been an avid critic of the case that has been brought against him. In December 2004, Chong was to appear in an off-Broadway show entitled The Marijuana-Logues, a parody of Eve Ensler‘s The Vagina Monologues. His legal concerns, including members of the audiences smoking marijuana, ultimately caused him to cancel the show. In 2006, Chong wrote a book about his experiences in jail and his interest in meditation, called The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint (ISBN 1-4169-1554-0).
In 2010, Chong and Cyril Wecht appeared at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to oppose the United States Attorney who prosecuted him, Mary Beth Buchanan, who was running for the United States House of Representatives as a Republican. She was defeated in the Republican primary.
Seizure of a/k/a Tommy Chong DVDs 
On May 7, 2008, federal agents raided Spectrum Labs in an investigation related to Spectrum Labs’ “detoxification” products. The raid, one of nine during the day, was part of Operation True Test, an investigation being led by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Mary Beth Buchanan. The investigation targeted companies that sell so-called “masking products” that are supposed to help drug-users pass employer drug tests. There is, however, no federal law barring such products; they are regulated on a state-by-state basis. Of the nine search warrants issued, none were for businesses within Buchanan’s district.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in executing their search warrant, the federal agents seized 8,000-10,000 copies of the yet-to-be released documentary, a/k/a Tommy Chong. It has yet to be determined why the DVDs were seized during the raid. Furthermore, Chong has stated he has not been charged with any crime. In a statement released to the press, Chong stated “[The seizure of the DVDs is] a way to punish the distributor financially. There’s no way to get the DVDs back until the investigation is over.” Chong also stated that he has no ownership of the film,a/k/a Tommy Chong.
In retraction of its original story, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette stated, “8,000 to 10,000 copies of a Tommy Chong documentary were not seized in the raid. Instead, an “undisclosed number of DVD was taken”. The government is not required to disclose why the DVDs were taken as the raid was part of “an ongoing investigation”. This story as originally published May 11, 2008 was amended.”