Legendary Kentucky “Cocaine Bear” story to be made into a movie

By Rachel Nix, Building Kentucky

A new movie will dive into the fascinating true story of a legendary Kentucky bear.

Kentuckians may know the history of “Cocaine Bear,” a 175-pound black bear found dead of an apparent drug overdose after consuming more than 75 pounds of cocaine in the mid-1980s.

How the drugs made it to the Appalachian woods where the bear was found and the bear’s wild ride to where its body stands today is the stuff of legends – so its no wonder it caught the interest of major Hollywood names.

What we know about the Cocaine Bear movie

Elizabeth Banks

Elizabeth Banks is directing the “Cocaine Bear” film for Universal Pictures joined by producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller of LEGO movie fame.

The screenplay was written by Jimmy Warden and is described as a “character-driven thriller.”

It’s unclear if any of the movie will be shot in Kentucky when it starts filming in summer 2021 or if Banks and her collaborators will visit now taxidermied Cocaine Bear in Lexington as inspiration for the film.

What’s the story of Cocaine Bear?

Andrew Thornton

A Kentucky drug smuggling ring known as “The Company” and its kingpin Andrew Carter Thornton II are behind this amazing true story. Thornton, the son of Kentucky horse breeders, served as a narcotics officer in Lexington, lawyer, and Army paratrooper before entering the illegal drug trade.

In 1985, Thornton’s plane engine malfunctioned when flying illegal drugs across the region. Panicked, he strapped pounds of cocaine to his body and pushed the rest out of the plane before jumping out with a parachute. When the parachute didn’t open, Thornton fell to his death onto a driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee.

The plane crashed 60 miles away and “Cocaine Bear” was found months later 50 miles away in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest. The dead bear was believed to have ingested roughly $15 million worth of discarded drugs found in a duffel bag from Thornton’s haul.

The life of Thornton was later chronicled in the book “The Bluegrass Conspiracy” by Sally Denton and inspired storylines on the TV show “Justified.”

Where is Cocaine Bear now?

Cocaine Bear at Kentucky Fun Mall

This wild story doesn’t end there. Cocaine Bear’s body was recovered and stuffed to put on display at a Tennessee park. He was later put into storage, stolen, and pawned before spending time in the home of country star Waylon Jennings and lived with a Vegas hustler before ending up at an auction. He was purchased by Reno, Nevada man who put the bear on display in his medicine shop.

Fans of the Cocaine Bear legend and owners of Kentucky for Kentucky tracked down the bear in 2015. Known for their 2011 campaign to change Kentucky’s slogan to “Kentucky Kicks Ass,” Kentucky for Kentucky founders Whit Hiler and Griffen VanMeter were able to acquire the bear from the Reno man’s wife and bring it back to Kentucky.

Cocaine Bear traveled across the country again to become a roadside attraction a the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington, where he stands today. Fans are encouraged to snap a photo with “Pablo EskoBear” while they shop. T-shirts, mugs and other Cocaine Bear merch are also available as souvenirs.

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