Cocaine Bear: True story of infamous bear who consumed duffel bag of cocaine and got Hollywood treatment

Animal overdosed after it ate 70 pounds of drugs thrown out of plane by infamous smuggler, Graeme Massie writes

Tuesday 28 February 2023 07:40 GMT
True story of infamous bear who consumed duffel bag of cocaine to get Hollywood treatment
True story of infamous bear who consumed duffel bag of cocaine to get Hollywood treatment (Getty/iStock)

When Georgia investigators stumbled across the infamous Cocaine Bear in 1985 its cause of death was unmistakable.

The 175-pound black bear was found next to a duffel bag that had once been filled with more than 70 pounds of cocaine before it was hurled from a drug smuggler’s plane.

Except now it was ripped open with 40 empty packets scattered near the overdosed animal’s carcass.

Now the wild story of the Cocaine Bear has been given the Hollywood thriller treatment and turned into a movie directed by actress and director Elizabeth Banks.

The movie stars Keri Russell of The Americans, as well an ensemble cast that includes her husband Matthew Rhys, Margo Martindale, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Alden Ehrenreich and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

And it also features one of the final ever movie performances of Goodfellas actor Ray Liotta, who died while filming the movie Dangerous Waters in the Dominican Republic in May.

Cocaine Bear, Trailer

Cocaine Bear charges its way into movie theatres on 24 February 2023.

The cocaine eaten by the predator, worth an estimated $15m, was dropped out of a plane in 1985 by drug smuggler Andrew Thornton, the son of wealthy Kentucky horse breeders.

Stills from ‘Cocaine Bear’ movie (Universal Pictures)

Thornton, a former lawyer and narcotics police officer, had been on a cocaine-smuggling run in a Cessna from Colombia and was dropping packages off in northern Georgia.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, Thornton fell to his death when he jumped out of the plane and “hit his head on the tail of the aircraft” and failed to open his parachute.

Stills from ‘Cocaine Bear’ movie (Universal Pictures)

When his body was found in a neighbourhood driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee, Thornton was wearing night vision goggles, a bulletproof vest and Gucci loafers.

Thornton, 40, also had $4,500 in cash on him, two guns, several knives and a key to the plane.

Stills from ‘Cocaine Bear’ movie (Universal Pictures)

The unoccupied aircraft he was flying was later found crashed several hours away in the mountains of North Carolina and when authorities retraced the plane’s flight path and discovered nine duffel bags full of cocaine.

Three months after Thornton’s death the dead bear, and the tenth duffel bag, were found south of the state line between Tennessee and Georgia in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

But that was far from the end of the bear’s amazing story.

Now stuffed, the bear, which has been named Pablo Eskobear after Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar, is an unlikely tourist attraction at the “Kentucky For Kentucky” mercantile store in Lexington, Kentucky.

They got their hands on it after an exhaustive cross-country search, and detail its bizarre history on their website.

“Its stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine. There isn’t a mammal on the planet that could survive that,” the medical examiner who performed the bear’s necropsy told the company’s founders.

“Cerebral haemorrhaging, respiratory failure, hyperthermia, renal failure, heart failure, stroke. You name it, that bear had it.”

The bear was eventually taxidermied by officials and donated to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, where it was displayed at a visitor centre.

It then went into storage during a wildfire, before ending in a Nashville pawn shop. From there it was bought by country music star Waylon Jennings, who gifted it to a friend in Las Vegas.

When the friend, Ron Thompson, died in 2009, his estate was auctioned off and Cocaine Bear was bought by Chinese immigrant Zhu T’ang for $200.

When Mr T’ang died in 2012 the owners of Kentucky For Kentucky contacted his widow and she agreed to give them Cocaine Bear, if they paid for its shipping.

The bear is now a social media star in its own right at the company’s location at the Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington.

The movie Cocaine Bear is based on an untitled script written by Jimmy Warden and was produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who directed The Lego Movie.

Cocaine Bear will be Banks’ third feature after last directing Charlie’s Angels in 2019 and Pitch Perfect 3 in 2015.

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