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Is the true story of ‘Cocaine Bear’ as wild as it sounds?

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Science Instruments in laboratory room. Science Research Concept.

The trailer for Elizabeth Banks’s Cocaine Bear is a glorious fever dream that sees a black bear ingest cocaine and set off on a murder rampage. Adding to the insanity is the trailer’s reveal that the film is “inspired by true events,” which leads to the perfectly logical question, “Wait, so a bear actually did cocaine?”

Yes. Yes, it did. Here’s how it happened.

The true story behind Cocaine Bear involves millions of dollars worth of cocaine and a plane crash.

The year: 1985. The place: Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia. As the Associated Press reported at the time, investigators were on the hunt for cocaine lost in a smuggling operation when they found the corpse of a 150-pound black bear. Alongside it? 40 shredded bags of cocaine.

Each package held one kilogram of cocaine, making for a total of 88 pounds worth up to $20 million. And according to officials, the bear ate several million dollars worth of it. However, unlike the movie suggests, real-life Cocaine Bear did not go on a killing spree. Instead, it died upon ingesting such a massive amount of drugs.

“The bear got to it before we could, and he tore the duffel bag open, got him some cocaine and OD’d (overdosed),” Gary Garner, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, told the AP. The bear had been dead for about four weeks, investigators believed.

Such a massive amount of cocaine doesn’t simply appear out of nowhere. In this case, though, it did fall from the sky.

The bear’s cocaine was part of a larger smuggling operation. It was dropped from a Cessna plane by Andrew Thornton, a former Kentucky narcotics investigator. Thornton fell to his death in Knoxville, Tennessee, on September 11, 1985. He had been parachuting while carrying 77 pounds of cocaine on his person, which proved to be too heavy a load. An hour after he fell, an unmanned Cessna crashed in North Carolina. Investigators found a key linked to that Cessna in Thornton’s pocket.

The legacy of Cocaine Bear — aka “Pablo Escobear” — endures.

If you’re a newfound Cocaine Bear devotee, you might be excited to know that you can visit it in-person. The Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall claims to have the actual taxidermied Cocaine Bear on display. They have dubbed it “Pablo Escobear” after drug lord Pablo Escobar and sell merch declaring it the “ultimate party animal.”

The Fun Mall claims that this is the authentic Cocaine Bear, but even if it isn’t, the story of how they obtained the alleged Cocaine Bear is wild enough to be its own movie. According to the Fun Mall, the medical examiner who performed the bear’s autopsy had the bear stuffed and given to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area as a gift. After a stint in storage and a pawn shop, the stuffed bear was sold to country singer Waylon Jennings. Cocaine Bear also traveled to Las Vegas before it was obtained by the Fun Mall, where it has resided since 2015. So, on top of being a true crime superstar and gifting us with the greatest movie title of all time, it turns out that Cocaine Bear is a well-traveled legend. What a life (and death) Cocaine Bear had.

Cocaine Bear hits theaters Feb. 24, 2023.

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