Return to top Koko, The ‘World Famous’ Gorilla Who Learned To Use Sign Language, Dies at 46

Koko, The ‘World Famous’ Gorilla Who Learned To Use Sign Language, Dies at 46

By - 22nd June 2018

This week, the world sadly lost an icon – at the age of 46, Koko the Gorilla passed away. This beloved western lowland gorilla has touched the hearts of millions including many celebrities. Betty White and Koko had a particularly special relationship.

Throughout Koko’s four-and-a-half decade life, she met many celebrities who came by to chat and bond. One of those was Betty White. The Gorilla Foundation’s website says, “Betty met Koko in 2004 and became best friends almost immediately.”

Betty White and Koko had bonded almost instantly

In White’s book, If You Ask Me, Betty wrote an entire chapter about Koko and their interactions. Koko was given Betty’s book and immediately Koko pointed at Betty’s face on the cover. Koko recognised her special friend immediately.

Betty White served on The Gorilla Foundation’s board from 2004 – 2016. Betty met with Koko numerous times. She got to witness Koko’s phenomenal aura on many occasions and witness first hand how skilled the gorilla had become in using American Sign Language.

Koko loved watching Betty on TV

Koko enjoyed watching her good friend Betty in her hit TV show Golden Girls where she would recognise her and smile.

Betty took to Twitter to mourn the departure of her incredibly unique friend. The 96-year-old actress and living legend wrote a touching but brief message to her followers.

Betty White and Koko

“I treasure every minute we spent together #Koko”

Who is Koko the Gorilla?

For those of you who may not know, Koko is a truly unique creature. Born at the San Francisco Zoo, Koko was chosen to be raised to communicate and help humans understand their complex nature.

She spent most of her life at the Gorilla Foundation’s headquarters in Woodside, California. Psychologist Dr Francine “Penny” Patterson brought Koko to the headquarters to study languages.

In 1978, the lowland gorilla’s grasp of American Sign Language left the world stunned after she appeared on the cover of National Geographic.

But Koko the Gorilla didn’t just touch the heart of Betty White, in fact, she touched the hearts of millions!

Throughout Koko’s life, she met countless celebrities. When she was young, she appeared on an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood. Koko had grown up watching the famous children’s television show. So when she got the opportunity to meet Mister Rogers, she taught him the sign for “I love you.”

Another human she met and had an incredible bond with was the late Robin Williams. The phenomenally energetic comedian would pull faces and Koko and in turn, Koko would make silly faces back.

Robin Williams said the experience was “awesome and unforgettable.” Koko recognised Robin from his film work and was very excited to get the chance to speak to him. Robin even tried to learn as much American Sign Language as possible to communicate with his new animal friend.

When Robin Williams passed away, Koko was given the news by her team and she immediately started crying. Koko understands the concept of death and loss and she reacted much like a human would do.

It’s sad to see that the world has lost such an incredible animal. But in her time on earth, she’s managed to change the way people view and understand gorillas, furthermore, there will be many more language developments with other gorillas like this, but we will never see another Koko.

So make sure you check out Betty White and Koko the Gorilla interacting with one another. Betty and Koko’s bound to put a smile back on your face.

Don’t forget to watch Betty White and Koko the Gorilla bonding in the video below. Also, at Happiest we love hearing all of your opinions. So please let us know what you thought of the article in the comment section. 🐝