By now, it’s likely you’ve heard of the movie Cocaine Bear, whose recent promotion seems to be more rampant than cocaine in the 1980s.
And the movie’s title is pretty succinct to what it offers – there is a bear and she does a whole lot of cocaine.
What you may not know, however, is that Cocaine Bear is based on a true story.
These are the true events that inspired what’s sure to be one of 2023’s most wild flicks.
The real cocaine bear dates back to the 1980s (of course)
In 1985, ex-narcotics officer-turned-drug smuggler Andrew Thornton (played by Matthew Rhys) came up with a drug smuggling operation that involved dropping packages of cocaine from Colombia out of a Cessna 404 Titan plane into the Tennessee Valley in Georgia.
However, on a September flight that year, Thornton dropped several duffel bags of cocaine – about $2 million worth – from the plane mid-air, somewhere over Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia.
Kentucky.com reports that Thornton got spooked when he thought he heard federal officers talking about following the plane on the radio. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, Thornton fell to his death when he jumped out of the plane and his parachute failed to open.
His body was found on a neighbourhood driveway in Knoxville, Tenn., wearing a bulletproof vest, night vision goggles and Gucci loafers, as well as carrying $4,500 in cash and knives and guns. He also had several bags of cocaine strapped to him.
The abandoned plane, meanwhile, crashed into the hills of North Carolina.
Bear meets drugs
Over the course of several months, police found the ditched cocaine, and it’s here where the real-life story and movie plotline depart.
In both the true events and the movie, yes, a bear did get into the ditched cocaine. But while the movie bear goes berserk and embarks on a gory, cocaine-fuelled killing spree, the fate of the real bear was definitely less lively.
According to a New York Times report published Dec. 22, 1985, a 175-pound black bear ended up getting into one of the duffel bags of the ditched cocaine, consuming 40 plastic containers of the drug.
Pablo Escobear, as she was eventually named, died of an apparent overdose close to where she found the drugs.
The retired medical examiner who performed Escobear’s necropsy at the time, recently said that he discovered the bear’s “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.”
Despite the internal damage to the bear, the examiner said he was shocked at how well the exterior of the bear appeared and decided to contact a taxidermist friend. Once Escobear was stuffed, she was gifted to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, reports the Louisville Courier Journal, where she was displayed in the visitor center behind a plaque that did not mention her hard-partying ways.
But that’s not where this odd, true tale ends.
Escobear travels the Southern U.S.
At one point, in the early 1990s, park employees were forced to evacuate the area due to an approaching wildfire. As they scrambled to leave, they took some of the centre’s artifacts, including the stuffed bear, and stored them in a nearby town.
However, the artifacts went missing soon after, and while some were eventually recovered from a Nashville pawn shop, Escobear was nowhere to be found.
An investigation eventually found that country singer Waylon Jennings had purchased Escobear from the pawn shop and gifted it to a friend in Las Vegas. When the owner of Escobear died in 2009, Escobear was sold at an estate auction for an uncontested opening bid of $200.
Most recently, Escobear was purchased by a souvenir “fun mall” called Kentucky for Kentucky, and will call the shop home for the foreseeable future. The store has gone all-in on the story of the drugged-up bear, offering plenty of Cocaine Bear merch for sale, including a punny “blow” globe, Cokey the Bear patches, beer koozies and Valentine cards.
She’s also available for photo ops and comes with a warning sign hung around her neck:
“Don’t do drugs or you’ll end up dead (and maybe stuffed) like poor ‘Cocaine Bear.’”
Cocaine Bear is now in theatres, nationwide.
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