Cheech's fans have gone from tokers to tykes with his work as the voice of Banzai the Hyena in The Lion King, his children's record My Name Is Cheech the Bus Driver and the new family-friendly film Paulie, about a talking parrot. "I want to have an audience that goes from the womb to the tomb," says Marin, whose TV series with Don Johnson, Nash Bridges, is in its third year on CBS. "I personify all the changes our generation went through, in the extreme." Johnson, who calls Marin "one of the funniest bastards I've ever met," confirms that Cheech (short for Chicharrón; his real name is Richard) has matured: The two old pals relax playing golf on grass instead of smoking it. "He's gotta get a little more balance on his back-swing," Johnson says.
The kids in Marin's six-bedroom townhouse in San Francisco's Pacific Heights—Joey is 12, Jasmine is 5, and Carmen, 18, is a college freshman—dig Dad's humor. Watching the video of Cheech & Chong's Next Movie (1980), "Joe sees this wild character running around with long hair," says Marin. "And he said, 'Dad, is that you? Wow, you're psycho! Cooool!' " The mom of the house is Marin's second wife, artist Patti Heid, 45, whom he married in 1984. (Carmen's mother is Marin's first wife, Darlene Morley, a home-maker.) Heid says she is "more impetuous and spontaneous" than her husband but adds, "once Cheech gets into anything, he really likes it."
One passion is the Chicano folk art covering the walls of his home. Marin's collection of such paintings is, he thinks, the largest in private hands. For Marin, whose grandparents emigrated from Mexico, the art evokes his heritage: "It's kind of like urban reality and remembering your roots at the same time."
Marin also waters his roots with his role as a cop on Nash Bridges: The actor's father, Oscar, is a retired L.A. police officer (mother Elsa still works, as a secretary). "Every time I open my mouth, my father comes out subconsciously," says Marin, who grew up with his three sisters in Granada Hills and other rough L.A. neighborhoods. "By the time I was 7, I had seen three murders," he says. "What I always remembered about my dad and the whole police experience was the gruesomeness of it, and the gallows humor. You had to laugh in the face of disaster." But Oscar wasn't amused by his son's drug use or views about the Vietnam War, which Cheech avoided by moving to Canada. "He had this presumption," Marin jokes, "that if my lips were moving, I was lying."
In l969, Cheech joined the comedy troupe City Works in Vancouver, where he met Chong, a nightclub owner. Back in L.A. in 1970, Cheech (who beat the draft this time by being classified 4-F due to a skiing injury) and Chong refined their dopey act, leading to gold records, a Grammy and six films. They split in 1984—around the time Marin was breaking up with his first wife—over creative differences. Cheech thought the old shtick was getting tired. Today they maintain a wary friendship. "I'm thrilled to death about Cheech's success," says Chong, 59, who continues to do stand-up comedy as a solo act in smoke-filled rooms and whose next film is called Best Buds. "The more popular Cheech becomes, the more popular I become." Chong recently pushed for a reunion tour, but Cheech says, "When you quit, it's over. I have too much respect for what we did then." Still, the two did reunite last year for an episode of Nash Bridges that also brought back Johnson's Miami Vice cohort Philip Michael Thomas. "I miss him, and I sure could use him," says Chong, "but I understand that he's evolved."
As has his parenting. Marin realizes he can't be too strict—that would be like the pot smoker calling the kettle black—so the answer he finally crafted in response to Carmen's question about drugs was "common sense," he says. "If you abuse it, it gets in your way." Marin is aware of the inherent irony. "It's so frightening how much I'm like my father now," he says. "My son doesn't understand it, just as I didn't understand it when I was his age."
Paula Yoo in San Francisco