Elizabeth Banks’ directorial ‘Cocaine Bear’ is a dark comedy action movie that follows the titular 500-pound mammal. After it accidentally ingests a massive amount of cocaine discarded by a pair of smugglers, a black bear in a Georgia forest becomes crazily intoxicated. In a drug-fueled frenzy, the giant creature embarks on a murderous rampage, killing anyone that comes its way. So, if you’re wondering, the movie is loosely inspired by an actual 1985 incident involving an infamous bear who consumed cocaine, earning him the moniker “Cocaine Bear.” So, if you wish to know more about it and its current whereabouts, here’s what we found!
Did Cocaine Bear Die?
Unfortunately, Cocaine Bear did die. Contrary to its much larger and menacing onscreen counterpart, the real bear (AKA Pablo Eskobear) was a 175-pound American black bear. On September 11, 1985, former narcotics officer turned drug dealer Andrew Thornton II smuggled a 400-kilo batch of cocaine from Colombia into the US. To lighten the load on his small airplane, he air-dropped three bags containing the drug while flying over the forests of Tennessee.
Interestingly, Thornton died later that day during a failed ejection attempt when his parachute malfunctioned. His body and the remaining drugs were discovered in a man’s driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee. Meanwhile, the narcotics officers combed the forests for the cocaine he had discarded. On December 23, 1985, they found the corpse of a 175-pound American black bear in the nearby mountains of Fannin County, Georgia.
Sadly, the poor creature had accidentally chanced upon and ingested a vast amount of the cocaine dumped by Thornton and died about four weeks ago of a fatal overdose. Next to the bear, the officers found an empty duffel bag and 40 packages of cocaine, which were all thrashed open. While it was initially reported that the bear consumed all 75 pounds of the drug, an autopsy later clarified that it had absorbed only three to four grams in its bloodstream when he died. Although he might have eaten more, a large part of the missing cocaine was suspected to be stolen by a human.
Nevertheless, even 3-4 grams was lethal for the bear, and it suffered multiple health problems that led to its death. This included cerebral hemorrhaging, respiratory failure, hyperthermia, renal failure, heart failure, and stroke. Not just that, the medical examiner stated that the stomach was “literally packed to the brim with cocaine.” Though the timeline of events between when the bear ingested the cocaine and its death is unclear, it reportedly did not kill or harm anyone, as opposed to what is depicted in the movie.
Where is Cocaine Bear Today?
Once the narcotics investigation ended, Dr. Kenneth Alonso, the medical examiner who autopsied Cocaine Bear, wished to preserve its body. Hence, he took help from a hunter and taxidermied the bear before giving it to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. It remained there on display until 1990 when a wildfire caused it to be relocated to a neighboring town. It eventually disappeared from storage and ended up in a Nashville pawn shop, where it was sold to Country Singer Waylon Jennings.
After keeping it in his Las Vegas home for some years, the musician gifted the bear to a friend called Ron Thompson. It is said that when the latter died in 2009, a Reno resident named Zhu T’ang purchased the bear at an auction and took it home. Around 2015, Kentucky For Kentucky Fun Mall employees in Lexington expressed an interest in acquiring the bear and contacted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Dr. Alonso.
Following a lengthy search, the mall employees finally tracked it down to its last owner in Reno. Zhu T’ang’s widow gave them the bear at a very minimal price, and it was brought to the Fun Mall in Kentucky and put on display. Today, the Cocaine Bear is the mall’s official mascot and a popular tourist attraction, with merchandise based on it being sold as souvenirs.
Read More: Where Was Cocaine Bear Filmed?