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Cocaine bear
Kentucky For Kentucky

The Cocaine Bear movie sounds just as mad as its title suggests

Buckle yourselves in for a wild ride

A bear who was given the posthumous nickname of Pablo Eskobear is getting its story adapted for the big screen. Based on that sentence alone, I won’t bother asking whether you’ll be joining myself and the rest of the world in watching the movie as soon as humanly possible – I know you will be.

Taking on the long and twisting tale of the cocaine bear is actor-turned-director Elizabeth Banks. The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are set to produce the “character-driven thriller” with shooting reportedly starting this summer. While no details of the script are known as of yet, there is plenty in the story to make a compelling movie. Whatever you’ve been imagining based on the title Cocaine Bear, it’s better. Buckle up.

Our story takes place in the 80s, and begins with Andrew Thornton II, the son of wealthy Kentucky horse breeders who became a corrupt narcotics police officer and head of an international drug smuggling operation. I know – it’s good already.

In 1985, while on a coke-smuggling run from Colombia, Thornton’s plane ran into engine trouble. After dumping as much of the cocaine as he could, he jumped from the plane, hit his head, failed to open his parachute and fell to his death. His body was discovered in someone’s yard in Knoxville, Tennessee, still dressed in his night vision goggles and Gucci loafers. He had on him 75lb of cocaine ($15 million worth), $4,500 in cash, some knives, and two pistols. His plane was later found crashed several hours away in the mountains of North Carolina. When authorities retraced its flightpath they discovered nine duffel bags full of cocaine.

But the story doesn’t end there. Three months later, a dead black bear was found in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest, next to a duffel bag that had once been filled with cocaine. The 175lb bear had eaten 40 packets of coke – almost 90lb – and suffered an overdose. The medical examiner who performed an autopsy on the bear at the time said the bear’s stomach “was literally packed to the brim with cocaine. There isn’t a mammal on the planet that could survive that”. The cause of death was given as “cerebral hemorrhaging, respiratory failure, hyperthermia, renal failure, heart failure, stroke. You name it, that bear had it”.

Following the autopsy, the medical examiner had a hunting buddy who was into taxidermy stuff the bear, which they then gifted to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, where it was put on display at the visitor center. But the story doesn’t end there friends, oh no. Because, you see, in the early 90s a threat of an approaching wildfire prompted park employees to evacuate the area’s facilities and place all artifacts, including the bear, into temporary storage. A month later, the bear was gone. 

This is when the story gets even stranger. It turns out that the bear had turned up at a pawn shop in Nashville, where it was promptly bought by country star Waylon Jennings, a huge collector of taxidermy and American oddities. After being contacted by police, Jennings said that he had no idea the bear had been stolen and wouldn’t have bought it if he had, but that he had already gifted the bear to his pal, Vegas hustler Ron Thompson, and the bear was now residing in Thompson’s Nevada desert mansion. 

After a few more twists and turns in the story, involving an auction and a Chinese medicine shop in Reno, the bear finally ended up at the Kentucky for Kentucky “Fun Mall” in Lexington where it has been ever since. For anyone interested, the bear is available to visit at the mall, where it gets accessorised with a variety of hats, and where you can also pick up a range of tasteful coke bear merch including a snowglobe, t-shirts, stickers, and badges. While you wait in anticipation for the release of Cocaine Bear, read the full bizarre story here.