The Real Story Behind ‘Cocaine Bear’

For centuries—from the time of Aristotle to the modern era of Neil DeGrasse Tyson making absolutely sure we know that becoming Marvel’s the Hulk is in fact, not possible—our greatest thinkers have never once considered what would happen if a bear did cocaine. Until today. We have actress and director Elizabeth Banks to thank for such a brave question. Her latest film, Cocaine Bear, has become first viral horror-comedy to hit theaters since… well, M3GAN.

So what, according to Banks, would a Cocaine Bear do? Would it go a rampage, steal picnic baskets, blow cocaine off of severed limbs, and forget to prevent forest fires? (If you saw the movie: two our of those four are true.) Well, the shocking true story of the bear who actually did cocaine may surprise you. Yes, you read that right, dear reader! The Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Ray Liotta-starring Cocaine Bear is inspired by real-life events, as the opening of the film tells us. As it turns out, doing a lot of drugs is just as harmful to bears as it is for humans. Just ask the D.A.R.E. mascot Daren the Lion, and he’ll tell you that cocaine was not on the food pyramid at school for a good reason. As the story goes, the real-life “Cocaine Bear” overdosed and died the second it got its paws on that bag of cocaine.

The event occurred back in September 1985, when drug smugglers in the Tennessee wilderness accidentally dropped a load of 40 plastic containers of cocaine from their twin-engine aircraft. According to The New York Times, the smuggler, named Andrew C. Thornton II, also died when he exited the plane and his parachute failed. Two months later, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found a near 200-pound black bear dead from ingesting over 75 pounds of the smuggler’s abandoned cocaine. Dr. Kenneth Alonso, Georgia’s chief medical examiner at the time, told the Times that the bear’s stomach was “literally packed to the brim with cocaine” when it overdosed. The drugs were later valued around an estimated $2 million. The bear’s body was later sent to a taxidermist and given to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Kentucky, where locals reportedly dubbed the animal “Pablo Eskobear” in reference to the Colombian drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar. The bear now resides in Lexington Kentucky’s “Fun Mall.”

But Hollywood knew better. Cocaine was at the center of massive films such as Scarface and Super Fly, as well as the probable catalyst for some of the most insane action blockbusters in the ’90s. So, since no one was more familiar with cocaine than the film industry, they knew the makings of a good story when inspiration struck. What if that bear hadn’t died immediately? What if it ran around and went absolutely bonkers instead? Remember Paddington? Child’s play. This is Paddington, but on cocaine. Bravo Hollywood, you’ve done it again.

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Josh Rosenberg is an entertainment writer living in Brooklyn, keeping a steady diet of one movie a day; his past work can be found at CBR, Spin, Insider, and on his personal blog at

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