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The True Story Behind ‘Cocaine Bear’

While it sounds silly, 'Cocaine Bear' actually takes inspiration from a real life story. ...

It seems like a crazy concept, but the upcoming film from Elizabeth Banks, Cocaine Bear, is actually based on a true story. Once again, fact is stranger than fiction. Although, while it is based upon events that occurred in the 1980s, the bear didn’t quite go on a rampage and more than a bit of artistic license has been taken. So what really happened?

For starters let’s just quicky describe what happens in the film for the sake of comparison. Cocaine Bear is a horror-comedy about a black bear who eats a brick of cocaine that falls from the sky. The bear then goes on a murderous rampage in which the cast has to survive. Very simple. 

While the film sounds hilarious and campy, the true story is much sadder. On September 11, 1985, officials were investigating a drug smuggling ring involving a former Kentucky narcotics investigator, Andrew Thornton, who was believed to be smuggling cocaine from Columbia into the country via a small plane. Thornton fell to his death after becoming caught in his parachute and landed on resident Fred Myers’ driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee. One theory posited that his parachute failed due to his load being too heavy. 

Andrew Thornton
Andrew Thornton

Police had known that Thornton had been dumping packages of cocaine near Blairsville, Georgia and while looking for them three months later, they discovered the remains of a black bear along with a duffel bag and torn packages of cocaine scattered along the hillside in Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia. 

As Gary Garner, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, told the Associated Press at the time, “The bear got to it before we could, and he tore the duffel bag open, got him some cocaine and OD’d [overdosed].”

The black bear weighed over 150 pounds had been dead for around four weeks. Investigators believe that there may have been more than one bear who ate several million dollars’ worth of cocaine with each of the 40 packages to have around 1kg of cocaine with a street value of $20 million USD. 

The following autopsy revealed that the bear’s stomach was stuffed with cocaine and suffered all the afflictions of an overdose including cerebral haemorrhaging and a stroke. 

The bear was then stuffed and passed around earning the nickname, “Pablo Escobear.” He is currently on display at the Kentucky Fun Mall. 

Andrew Thornton himself wasn’t just any drug smuggler, he was a head member of “The Company,” a drug smuggling ring in Kentucky. He was trained paratrooper, serving in the U.S. Invasion of the Dominican Republic for which he received a Purple Heart. He quit the army and got a degree in law enforcement along with a law degree. It was during his time with the police that he became a smuggler. When he fell, he was wearing a bulletproof vest and Gucci loafers along with 35kg of cocaine, several knives, two pistols, $4,500 in cash, and six gold Krugerrands. 

It isn’t quite the romp that Cocaine Bear promises to be, but when you hear the story, you can’t help but think how strange it is and how much fun you could have with the concept alone. 



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