As much as Cocaine Bear sounds like the new Sharknado, it’s not only a very real movie but it’s also based on a true story. And these Cocaine Bear facts are about as entertaining as you’d expect.
If you’re thinking the title of the comedy-slash-horror film is a clever metaphor, you’d be wrong. It is exactly what it says it is: a movie about a bear high on cocaine. There’s also probably no room for a sequel since the bear dies. Unless someone makes Paddington IV: Paddington Goes to Rehab.
Directed and co-produced by Elizabeth Banks (Hunger Games, Pitch Perfect), Cocaine Bear stars Keri Russell, the late Ray Liotta, Matthew Rhys, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., and more. It also could quite possibly be the weirdest film of 2023.
Cocaine Bear Facts
1. Cocaine Bear Was Real
On September 11, 1985, Andrew Thornton, a lawyer and narcotics officer-turned-drug smuggler was on his way back from Colombia with his friend, bodybuilder Bill Leonardy. According to what Leonardy told the Knoxville News-Sentinel, once they reached Florida, jets started tracking them and they realized they had to made an escape.
Leonardy started throwing duffel bags of cocaine out of the plane near Blairsville, Georgia.
Later, a large black bear weighing more than 150 pounds discovered one of the duffel bags and went to town, 80s stockbroker style.
According to an Associated Press news report entitled “Bear Believed To Have Overdosed On Cocaine Dropped By Parachutist, investigators searching for the cocaine Thornton dropped discovered the bear’s remains on December 20, 1985 in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
2. One Parachutist Died, the Other Survived
Thornton then tied an Army duffel bag packed with 77 pounds of cocaine to his person, put his Cessna on autopilot and parachuted out of the plane. Things went horribly wrong. He crashed onto a driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee, tangled in his parachute, and died.
When Thornton was found, he reportedly was wearing holding the bag of cocaine (worth $14 million at the time), night vision goggles, a bulletproof vest, and Gucci loafers. He was also in possession of gold Krugerrands, $4,500 in cash, knives, and two pistols. And the keys to his plane, which had crashed into a mountain in North Carolina.
Leonardy, however, lived and shared his story of what happened with the press.
3. The Bear Ate A Lot Of Cocaine
The bear, later named Pablo Eskobear, ate 40 packages of cocaine believed to contain one kilogram or 88 pounds of blow. It was valued at as much as $20 million dollars. Gary Garner, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, told AP that “The bear got to it before we could, and he tore the duffel bag open, got him some cocaine and OD’d (overdosed).”
According to the autopsy done by Georgia’s then Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Kenneth Alonso, the bear had absorbed only 3 to 4 grams into its bloodstream at the time of its death.
Reportedly, Alonso told reporters that the bear’s stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine and “the autopsy revealed that the bear suffered from every issue you’d expect from a massive cocaine overdose – respiratory failure, cerebral hemorrhaging, renal failure, hypothermia, heart failure, and stroke.”
It was this that inspired Banks to create a revenge story for the bear and the fact that he ended up being collateral damage in the war on drugs. Thus, a rampaging, murderous bear.
4. There Might Have Been More Than One Cocaine Bear
Though no other bear remains ever materialized, the initial Associated Press report says that, “officials believe the bear, and maybe some others, ate several million dollars worth of the cocaine.”
After all, that is a lot of blow for one bear.
5. Your Chance of Being Killed By A Black Bear Is Practically Zero
Though the actual events between when the bear ate the cocaine and its death are not known, we do know the Universal Pictures film takes a lot of liberties. For one, we know the cocaine-induced bear did not kill any people.
In fact, black bears have killed only 61 people in North America since 1900. The chances of dying from a lot of other things — including bees – is higher.
What do you do if you find yourself face-to-face with a black bear? The National Park Service says do not play dead. If you can’t escape, try to fight back.
6. Waylon Jennings Once Was In Possession of the Bear
Following the autopsy, the poor bear was sent to a taxidermist to be stuffed and was donated to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area and displayed.
In the early 1990s, according to Kentucky for Kentucky, a wildfire threat prompted the park to evacuate their facilities. They moved their artifacts — including the bear — to temporary storage in Dalton.
But, a month later the bear had disappeared, somehow ending up in a Nashville pawn shop where it was purchased by country music singer Waylon Jennings, who gifted it to his friend Ron Thompson.
When Thompson died in 2009, a man named Zhu T’ang bought it for $200. His wife was not thrilled, she explained to Kentucky For Kentucky, saying “He was always bringing home junk from auctions and estate sales and things like that,” she said. “The bear was one of his favorite things. He just loved it for some reason. At first, he wanted to keep it in our living room but I wouldn’t have it. It scared me. I made him take it to the store.”
7. You Can Visit Pablo EskoBear In Person
For a while, the bear lived at T’angs traditional Chinese medicine shop in Reno. When he died in 2012, his wife kept the bear. The KY for KY Fun Mall in Lexington found her, and she agreed to let them have the bear if they paid for the shipping cost.
And now, the bear lives at the Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington.
What all this says to us is that no one ever appreciated his true worth. You deserved so much more, Pablo.
8. Cocaine Bear Was Ray Liotta’s Last Completed Film Before His Passing
On May 26, 2022, a week after he came in to re-record his lines in post-production, Ray Liotta passed away.
But his legacy will live on in this final role.
9. Cocaine Bear Was the Working Title
Clearly, the working title stuck, but only because the producers couldn’t think of anything better.
When it works, it works. Just like Snakes On A Plane. Unlike a box of chocolates, you know exactly what you’re gonna get.
10. There’s a Tell-All Book About It
If you want to dive deeper into the tale of Thornton, the drug smuggling ring he might have been a part of, and the unfortunate bear, check out The Bluegrass Conspiracy published in 1990.
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