Kentucky Store With ‘Cocaine Bear’ Says Taxidermied Animal Is ‘Living His Best Life’

Ahead of the upcoming Elizabeth Banks-helmed movie “Cocaine Bear,” Anne Livengood, the sales and marketing director at Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall, says that the store “made Cocaine Bear famous.”

The Kentucky store where the stuffed “Cocaine Bear” resides tells Inside Edition Digital that the taxidermied animal is “living his best life.”

Ahead of the upcoming Elizabeth Banks-helmed movie “Cocaine Bear,” Anne Livengood, the sales and marketing director at Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall, says that the store “made Cocaine Bear famous.”

“For a long time no one cared about this bear, and he got passed along from hand to hand, and we got a hold of him back in 2015 and just really have taken ahold of his whole crazy past and his whole crazy background. And it's become a big part of the Kentucky culture and a big part of people come from all over the world to visit him,” she said. “So this story was nuts, so we just kind of ran with it.”

Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington, which celebrates all things from the “Bluegrass State,” has taken the urban legend of “Cocaine Bear” and turned it into more than folklore. But the story of how they obtained the bear, which is said to have had the largest drug overdose in American history, is just as wild as something a Hollywood writers' room would craft.

“We are just a team of really creative kick ass people and honestly, truly, and it was something, it was an idea that stuck, that got tossed around and stuck, and we decided that we had to have Cocaine Bear and that we were going to tell the world his story,” Livengood said. “And since then it's just really taken off.”

The story starts in September 1985, Andrew Carter Thornton II, a former police officer turned lawyer turned drug smuggler, as he was traveling from Colombia with millions of dollars worth of the white powder in a small Cessna airplane.

The plane began to reportedly malfunction and Thornton panicked and jettisoned at least 40 containers of cocaine, according to the Daily Mirror.

Realizing the plane was going to crash, he set the autopilot and directed it to the Atlantic Ocean. Heavily armed, wearing a bulletproof vest and expensive Gucci shoes, and carrying thousands of dollars in cash and a duffel bag containing 77 pounds of cocaine, Thornton jumped from the aircraft. The 77 pounds of coke that he had strapped to his body had a street value of over $14 million, according to reports from the time.

Thornton’s parachute failed to open and he fell to his death. His body was discovered in the driveway of a homeowner in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The plane crashed on land 60 miles away from Thornton's body. Knoxville police connected a key found on his body to the plane and believed Thornton ultimately intended to meet someone on the ground to deliver the cocaine.

The cocaine he pushed out ended up in Chattahoochee National Forest in northern Georgia, and months after the crash a 175-pound bear was found dead with empty containers of cocaine nearby.

The bear was reportedly estimated to have ingested about $15 million worth of cocaine.

The animal's body was stuffed, and it became a tourist attraction at a park at Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area park but was put in storage in the early 1990s when a wildfire threatened the area, according to reports.

The bear was reportedly among items stolen from the storage facility that ultimately ended up for sale. Eventually it came to belong to country music legend Waylon Jennings. Jennings did not know that the bear was stolen, according to Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall.

Jennings, who reportedly had an affinity for collecting taxidermy, purchased the bear for Ron Thompson, a friend based in Las Vegas. Thompson died in 2009 and many of his personal items went to auction, including the bear, according to Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall.

The bear was purchased at auction for $200 by Zhu T'ang, a Chinese American businessman in Reno, Nevada, who displayed it in his store. When Zhu T'ang died in 2012, his widow sold the business but kept the bear, despite never really liking it, according to Kentucky For Kentucky Fun Mall.

Ultimately, the bear would go on to be sent to the owners of the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall, who were told by Zhu T'ang's wife that they only needed to pay for the cost of its shipping.

Since 2015, the bear has been on display at the shop in Lexington, Kentucky. It dons a backwards cap and a sign around its neck that includes its origin story as well as a message to patrons that reads, “Don’t do drugs or you’ll end up dead (and maybe stuffed) like poor ‘Cocaine Bear.’”

“We've just been having a lot of fun with it, getting really creative and kind of just creating, giving Cocaine Bear this whole personality and creating this character from it. And so it's been a lot of fun,” Livengood told Inside Edition Digital.

She said the bear has been given nicknames like “Pablo Escobear,” “the biggest party animal,” and of course, “Cocaine Bear.”

With the film opening in theaters next year, Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall is expecting an influx of interest and tourists to see the famous bear.

“’Cocaine Bear’ has always been a super popular attraction since we got him. Obviously when we got ‘Cocaine Bear,’ we really started promoting and sharing his story to our fan base,” Livengood said. “We've had visitors from all over the world, so that's been a lot of fun. And then obviously we've gotten even more visitors now with the movie coming out that have heard about ‘Cocaine Bear’ now…this really exciting thing that is, everybody wants to see Cocaine Bear now.”

Livengood says that she and the rest of the staff at Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall are “pumped” for the movie but says that “Pablo Escobear” himself might have a say on all of the attention.

“Well if ‘Cocaine Bear’ could talk, I would say probably due to the cocaine, he would have a lot to say. I think he would be just as jazzed,” she said.

Related Stories