Cocaine Bear is one of the most unbelievable true stories to ever hit cinemas. Here’s everything you need to know about this raucous ursine romp.
Out now in Australian cinemas is Cocaine Bear, a comedy horror set in the 1980s that tells the story of how a 500-pound back bear consumed a duffel bag of cocaine that was airdropped into a forest in northern Georgia. An eccentric group of cops, drug dealers, and teens enter the forest only to face the coked-up bear’s wrath.
Key to the marketing of the film is the claim that Cocaine Bear is based on a “true story”. While the majority of the Elizabeth Banks-directed film is a work of fiction, there was indeed a black bear who in September of 1985 did its best Tony Montana impression and snorted over 15 kg of cocaine.
No, the bear did not become a rampaging killing machine – yet the story of how the cocaine got into the forest and the aftermath of the bear’s drug escapade is a bizarre one.
The true story behind Cocaine Bear
Central to the Cocaine Bear story was Andrew Carter Thornton II, a former narcotics police officer and lawyer from Lexington, Kentucky, who switched sides and became the head member of “The Company”, a drug smuggling ring that would fly cocaine from Colombia and then drop the shipment into the wilderness areas in the Southeastern region of the United States. Thornton’s wild-man personality and fancy footwear earned him the nickname “The Cocaine Cowboy.”
On September 11, 1985, Thornton was flying his twin-engine plane carrying 400 kilograms of cocaine (worth $14 million) from Colombia to Knoxville, Tennessee when he became convinced that he was being tracked by the feds after he entered US airspace. Thornton would proceed to toss three duffle bags of cocaine (weighing 32 kg each) out of the plane, which would land intact in the Chattahoochee National Forest of Northern Georgia.
As the plane neared the intersection of Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas at an altitude of 2.5 kilometres, Thornton – with cargo pants stuffed with cash and carrying two pieces of luggage filled with guns, ammunition, and cocaine – either jumped from the plane or hit his head and fell. Either way, the weight was too much, and Thornton fell to his death onto a suburban driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Four months later, it was discovered that an 80 kg black bear that was wandering the Chattahoochee wilderness found a duffle bag of cocaine and consumed the contents, leading to its demise. For the cocaine bear, though, this strange and wild trip had only just begun.
Where is the cocaine bear now?
An autopsy found that the bear’s stomach was filled with 16 kg of cocaine and that it had died from a combination of cerebral haemorrhaging, hyperthermia, respiratory failure, renal failure and heart failure. Ooft.
The medical examiner, however, noted that the bear’s body was in good cosmetic condition, so he arranged to have the bear stuffed and then gifted the bear to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
In the ‘90s, during an evacuation from a wildfire, the bear was put into storage and then disappeared. Someone had stolen the bear and sold it to country legend Waylon Jennings, who had a connection to Thornton through a man named Ron Thompson, a Las Vegas trip planner for millionaires who relied on Thornton to supply drugs for his parties. Jennings gifted the cocaine bear to Thompson as an inside joke.
When Thompson died, the cocaine bear was auctioned off to a Chinese immigrant living in Reno, who used the bear as decoration in his Chinese medicine shop. When he passed away, the bear would eventually be owned by the owners of Kentucky for Kentucky, a website that promotes the southeastern state.
Located in the Kentucky Fun Mall in north Lexington since 2016, the bear – now affectionately known as “Pablo Eskobear” – is a popular tourist attraction for curious travellers from around the world.
Cocaine Bear is in cinemas now in Australia. It is currently not available on any streaming services, but is available to rent or buy on iTunes or Google Play, and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in the future.