The cocaine bear of Kentucky is more than just a wild and wacky tale; but is an actual piece of weird history.
(Photo by iStock Photo)

Weird History: Meet The Cocaine Bear Of Kentucky

The Cocaine Bear, what an ingenious idea for a movie. It’s never been done before, right? Carnivorous, top of the food chain in the animal world, predator going crazy, hunting man and becoming a monster to the likes we have never seen, tearing people limb from limb in the most horrific gory way imaginable. Oh, wait, it has been done. The Cocaine Bear movie has the same energy as, say, Jaws, Cujo.

Let’s not gloss over the classic film Grizzley; A 1976, low-budget, land-bound rip-off of Jaws, Grizzly has nonetheless harbored a cult audience. It was even the top-grossing independent film of all time before the release of Halloween in 1978. The rabid animals are the star simply because they lose their cool and start eating people. 

How did the cocaine bear of Kentucky manage to get his own Hollywood movie? Well, lots and lots of drugs to begin with.
(Photo by iStock Photo)

The Crazy Cocaine Bear Story

We can all agree that an animal attack, especially by an Apex predator, as they state in the Cocaine Bear, “Apex predator … high on cocaine … out of its mind!” is hilarious sounding. This can be especially scary since, unlike the typical monster movies or ghost stories, these animals are in our everyday picture view. They are a natural part of our lives, and like Cujo and Grizzly, they are also adorable. So when they start hunting, man, our brains have a hard time understanding why everyone isn’t just hugging. 

The Cocaine Bear, also known as Pablo Eskobear (sometimes spelled Escobear), was a 175-pound American black bear who overdosed on cocaine in 1985. Drug smugglers had lost the drugs in the forested areas in Georgia‘, where the bear stumbled upon them. The bear was found dead and was stuffed and displayed in a Kentucky mall, which seems fitting. Old Pablo was the inspiration for this new oscar-winning film upcoming 2023. 

Drug Smuggling 101

September 11, 1985, former American narcotics officer and Kentucky-based drug smuggler Andrew C. Thornton the second was the wealthy son of an elite Kentucky horse-breeding family. Not to mention, in 1977, a practicing Lexington lawyer. According to a display at Georgia Bureau of Investigation headquarters (famous for exhibiting the Monkey From Mars) was trafficking cocaine from Colombia into the United States. I know what you are thinking, a former American narcotics officer working to smuggle in the drugs he bases his whole career on to keep it off the streets. Unbelievably, this story must be false. Well, it just so happens this story is very true. 

After dropping off, a shipment in Blairsville, Georgia, Thornton, an accomplice departed in an auto-piloted Cessna 404 Titan, an airplane. En route, the two dropped a load of 40 plastic containers of cocaine into the wilderness before abandoning the plane above Knoxville, Tennessee. Thornton was instantly killed in the evacuation when his parachute failed to open. According to the FBI, Thornton dumped their cargo due to the heavyweight in-flight.

Thornton’s body was found in a driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee. Nine coke-stuffed duffle bags were eventually recovered along his plane’s flight path. When they found him, he wore night vision goggles, a bulletproof vest, and Gucci loafers. He had $4500 in cash, a few knives, and two handguns. Three months later, the Cocaine Bear was found. 

 Here’s how the story appeared in the New York Times:

Cocaine and a Dead Bear

BLUE RIDGE, Ga., December 22 (UPI) — A 175-pound black bear died of an overdose of cocaine after discovering a batch of the drug, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said today. The cocaine was dropped from a plane piloted by Andrew Thornton, a convicted drug smuggler who died September 11 in Knoxville, Tenn., because he was carrying too heavy a load while parachuting. The bureau said the bear was found Friday in northern Georgia among 40 opened plastic containers with traces of cocaine.

On December 23, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reported finding a deadly black bear that had eaten the cocaine from the containers. The total amount of cocaine consumed was 75 pounds (34 kilograms), valued at 2 million dollars. The chief medical examiner of Georgia stated that its stomach was “literally packed to the brim with cocaine.” However, he estimated the bear had absorbed only 3 to 4 grams into its bloodstream at death.

Dr. Alonso did not want to waste the bear’s body, so he had it taxidermied and gave it to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. However, the bear was lost until it emerged again in a pawn shop. Country singer Waylon Jennings bought it, and eventually, it made its way to the “Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall” in Lexington, Kentucky, where it remains to this day. The bear has become an official state icon, thanks to Whit Hiler and Griffin VanMeter.

A bear is probably the only creature on planet earth that could consume that amount of cocaine and manage to go on a rampage before dying of massive heart failure.
(Photo by iStock Photo)

Heavyweight Overdose

Griffin and Whit spoke with the medical examiner who’d performed the bear’s necropsy. Even after 30 years, he remembered the bear. He told them:

“Its stomach was 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, and stroke. You name it, that bear had it.”

Decades have since passed. Griffin and Whit, also sons of the Bluegrass State (like Thornton), made headlines in 2011 when they launched a tongue-in-cheek campaign to replace Kentucky’s lame tourism slogan, “Unbridled Spirit,” with one of their own, “Kentucky Kicks Ass,” because .. why not? Their mission statement is “Our mission is to engage and inform the world by promoting Kentucky people, places, and products. And to kick ass for the commonwealth!” 

Kentucky Curiosities

This isn’t just a place where you can view this famous bear, but you can also purchase items such as all the Kentucky-themed T-shirts with sayings like “May The Force Be With Y’ALL” and “Like Kentucky Bourbon, I Get Better With Age.” Don’t you think there isn’t enough Cocaine Bear merchandise around? Some hats say “Cocaine Bear, Ultimate Party Animal” and “Cokey, The Bear; Don’t Do Drugs.” There are also Cocaine Bear earrings, Valentine’s day cards, sweaters, and beanies. 

So, if you see this movie and fall in love with the Cocaine Bear, know there is a community of like-minded folks down in old KY with all the Cocaine Bear shirts you could think of. Which one will you buy?

Are you a big fan of WEIRD HISTORY? Be sure to check out more articles like this on Skillset! Pablo Escobar Hippos

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