Lions and Tigers and Bears... and Cocaine. Oh My!

Illustration for article titled Lions and Tigers and Bears... and Cocaine. Oh My!
Photo: Becky Bohrer (AP)

I don’t know what comes to YOUR mind when reading the phrase “bear-centric thriller,” but I can’t help picturing a fully-grown bear poorly disguised as a delivery boy attempting to break into a government building and steal classified documents. But in this situation, the description from The Hollywood Reporter refrences an upcoming movie based on the story of Cocaine Bear, a black bear who—you guessed it!—ate a fuckton of cocaine. 76 POUNDS worth of coke, to be precise.

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Now, how did the unlucky (or perhaps extremely lucky?) bear stumble across so much damn cocaine? Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of a wild story. The cocaine that the bear devoured was technically the property of Andrew Carter Thornton II, a member of a wealthy Kentucky horse-breeding family who also happened to be a drug smuggler. During what would be Thornton’s last smuggling trip in 1985, he failed to open his parachute in time while attempting to jump out of the plane and fell to his death. In the process, he dropped ten coke-filled duffle bags along his aircraft’s flight path. Although the Georgia Bureau of Investigation eventually recovered nine of Thornton’s duffle bags, a 175-pound black bear apparently stumbled upon the tenth.

The bear, whose body wasn’t found until three months after the plane crash, had apparently consumed all 76 pounds worth of cocaine in the bag, which was worth approximately $15 million dollars. The medical examiner who had performed the bear’s necropsy reportedly remembered it clearly even three decades later, saying:

“Its stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine. There isn’t a mammal on the planet that could survive that. Cerebral hemorrhaging, respiratory failure, hyperthermia, renal failure, heart failure, stroke. You name it, that bear had it.”

Welp, that makes sense.

I know this story sounds like a delusional work of fiction made up by a writer who needs more sleep and less caffeine, but it’s real! I swear! The New York Times even reported on it back in 1985.

Although the details of the plot beyond “bear eats $15 million of cocaine and dies” are still being kept secretive, the upcoming Cocaine Bear movie—which is being called a horror-comedy—will be directed by Elizabeth Banks. Despite the disastrous circumstances around its death, Cocaine Bear still looked good enough after its demise that someone decided it should be stuffed and preserved. For a while, it was in the possession of a country music star, and then a Las Vegas hustler, and then a Chinese herbalist in Reno. Currently, the taxidermied bear is on display in a store in Lexington, Kentucky called “Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall,” where it’s been since 2015.

“You wouldn’t think that a Cocaine Bear would be for all ages, but kids love it,” said Griffin VanMeter, one of the store’s owners. “Everybody wants their picture with Cocaine Bear.”

Freelance writer & night blogger at Jezebel. Lover of television, astrology, and sandwiches.

DISCUSSION

I wish the story didn’t involve the bear dying.