The weird-but-true story of a doomed (but possibly briefly very excited) black bear looks to become an even weirder movie in 2023.
The trailer for the movie Cocaine Bear appeared on November 30 2022, accompanied on some platforms by the titular star saying, “I’m the bear who ate cocaine. This is my story.”
As with all things Hollywood, that’s not exactly true. But the actual story of “Pablo EskoBear” was almost too weird to be true in the first place.
It is true that, well, a bear did cocaine at least once; as the New York Times reported on December 23 1985, the story was a short one:
A 175-pound black bear apparently died of an overdose of cocaine after discovering a batch of the drug, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation [GBI] said today. The cocaine was apparently dropped from a plane piloted by Andrew Thornton, a convicted drug smuggler who died Sept. 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.
Director Elizabeth Banks’ movie will apparently move the story — and the drug-addled bear — to Knoxville, while adding action in the modern B-movie tradition of Snakes on a Plane and Sharknado. But a Lexington retailer, Kentucky for Kentucky, is credited with furthering the actual story of “Pablo” posthumously. According to their website, the store contacted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and spoke to the medical examiner who performed the necropsy on the bear:
He said it wasn’t common for him to examine animals, but from time to time animals were involved with criminal investigations and he was required to treat them the same as a deceased human. Nevertheless, the cocaine bear stood out to him as a particularly strange incident.
“Its stomach was literally 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, stroke. You name it, that bear had it.”
The medical examiner then reportedly had the bear’s body stuffed and gave it to officials at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area for display, setting off a chain of ownership that would include country music star Waylon Jennings before the store recovered “Pablo Eskobear” in 2015, where he has been displayed (and turned into a heavy source of merchandise) ever since.
In March 2021 newspaper columnist Maggie Menderski reported that the bear had attracted visitors from as far outside the U.S. as Australia and Poland prior to the COVID pandemic in 2020.
“People devour it the same way the bear gobbled up all that cocaine,” she wrote in the Lexington Courier Journal. “This new plug from Hollywood will only add to it.”
In the aftermath of the movie’s opening, the bear could be on the move again; the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not franchise — which originated as a newspaper strip before becoming a television show and “Odditorium” attractions — announced on February 28 2023 that it is negotiating to acquire “Pablo” after fans encouraged the idea on social media.
“Ripley’s fans across social media have tried to put a price tag on the trending taxidermy, from ‘priceless’ to estimating the current street value of the drugs ingested,” the company said in a statement. “With that input, Ripley’s has decided to offer an undisclosed amount.”
Update 2/28/2023, 11:14 a.m. PST: Updated to reflect the possible acquisition of “Pablo Eskobear” by Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. — ag