Step aside, Paddington. Your services are no longer required, Pooh. A new movie is in production and it makes both of you look like kid's films. Which, to be entirely fair, you are.
Nevertheless, the true story of Cocaine Bear – AKA Pablo EskoBear – is being released as a movie, with Elizabeth Banks directing. Frankly, unless Paddington 3 sees Paddington's marmalade addiction take a dark turn, it's going to take a hell of a lot to beat as the strangest bear movie this year.
The current synopsis of the movie, according to Google, is that "after a failed drug smuggling operation, a black bear ingests a large amount of cocaine and goes on a drug-fueled rampage", while Hollywood Reporter describes it as a film about when a "500-pound [227-kilogram] apex predator has ingested a staggering amount of the white powder and goes on a coke-fueled rampage seeking more blow – and blood."
Obviously, if this is correct it is clearly taking dramatic license, as the true story of Cocaine Bear is a lot different.
The bear that ate 70 pounds of cocaine
On September 11, 1985, an old man in Kentucky woke up and went outside, where he found the corpse of a man in his driveway – which would have been an unusual start to a Wednesday even if the corpse wasn't wearing a bulletproof vest and strapped to a parachute, which he was.
This was just a small part of his ensemble, which included night vision goggles, several handguns, and around $14 million worth of cocaine. The elderly gentleman phoned the police – as you well might in this situation – who identified the body as one Andrew C. Thornton II, a former paratrooper, narcotics officer, and lawyer who combined these unique skillsets when he became a parachuting drug smuggler for a ring known as "The Company".
Thornton – who had received a Purple Heart after being injured while deployed to the Dominican Republic during a revolution – had set his plane on autopilot before jumping from it, and was to hand on the cocaine once landing safely in Kentucky. While the plane crashed 96.5 kilometers (60 miles) away, he fell to the ground.
It's not known whether his parachute failed to deploy, or he had merely left it too late. His friends said that he liked to play a game of waiting as long as he possibly could before opening it up. Hell, you don't get into drug smuggling parachuting under the cover of night because you're averse to risk.
"But what of the cocaine bear?" I hear you ask. "The bear who liked to eat cocaine?"
Well, some three months later in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia – near where the plane was found – a 79.4-kilogram (175-pound) black bear was discovered, surrounded by 40 opened plastic packages that contained traces of cocaine. Despite the hefty weight of the bear, it was no match for around 31.8 kilograms (70 pounds) of cocaine that the packages used to house, and it had died of the overdose.
"Its stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine," the medical examiner who looked inside the animal's stomach told Kentucky For Kentucky. "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."
Despite the state of the bear's insides, the outside looked pretty great. This is where Pablo EskoBear's tale took a weird epilogue. The examiner sent the body to be stuffed. After this, it went to live in the visitor center at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
Following a fire, the bear was moved to Dalton, where soon afterwards it went missing. By the time other artifacts that were stolen were found in a pawn shop, the bear had already been sold to country music legend Waylon Jennings, who didn't know the backstory.
From here, the bear made its way to Vegas, where it lived in the mansion of Ron Thompson – a man who would organize fun for millionaires while they were in the city – where it remained for years. It then headed to Reno having been bought by Zhu T’ang, an owner of a traditional Chinese medicine shop, after Thompson died and his possessions were auctioned off.
It remained in the shop for many years, scaring the hell out of T'ang's wife.
The bear was finally tracked down by Kentucky for Kentucky who explained its backstory, after which it was happily returned to Kentucky in 2016, where tourists can see it in the Kentucky Fun Mall in north Lexington. A fitting resting place for a poor bear that was curious about a bag of cocaine, ate it, then devoured 39 further bags of cocaine.