Did Cocaine Bear kill anyone? The black bear’s true story

cocaine bear

Have you ever wondered what would happen if a black bear ingested copious amounts of cocaine? No? Well, inspired by true events, director Elizabeth Banks pondered that question and came up with the film Cocaine Bear. According to the trailer, cocaine gives the black bear other-worldly abilities and a taste for human blood. The synopsis reads:

“Cocaine Bear is inspired by the true story of a drug runner’s 1985 plane crash, missing cocaine, and the black bear that ate it. The movie finds an oddball group… converging in a Georgia forest where a 500-pound apex predator has ingested a staggering amount of cocaine and gone on a coke-fueled rampage for more blow… and blood.”

It’s unlikely that cocaine bear killed anybody considering the cocaine levels in his body

Cocaine bear’s story started with the discovery of Andrew Thornton II’s body in a neighborhood in Knoxville, Tennessee. Andrew was a narcotics officer and attorney turned drug smuggler. Around Andrew’s body were about 35 kilos of cocaine smuggled from Colombia. 

According to The Washington Post, he also carried, among others, survival gear, weapons, cash, gold, food rations, and identification papers. Andrew died due to a parachute malfunction caused by his heavy load. 

In the Georgia wilderness, a hunter found a dead bear on a hillside. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation eventually learned about the bear and the empty duffle bag with traces of cocaine found near the animal. 

Per The Associated Press, medical examiner Dr. Kenneth Alonso said that the bear absorbed three or four grams of cocaine into its blood but may have consumed more. In an interview with Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall decades later, the retired Alonso gave a detailed account of the amount of cocaine the bear ingested and its effects on the animal:

“Its stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine. There isn’t a mammal on the planet that could have survived that. Cerebral hemorrhaging, respiratory failure, hyperthermia, renal failure, heart failure, stroke. You name it, that bear had it.”

The last moments of the bear’s life remain a mystery, but it’s unlikely to have eaten, let alone killed someone, after ingesting such vast amounts of cocaine. Generally, black bears are non-confrontational. Therefore, it’s unlikely that cocaine turned the gentle creature into a murderous beast. 

A search of the surrounding area uncovered more than 300 pounds of cocaine. Andrew and his partner planned to collect the cocaine after parachuting off their airplane. However, cocaine bear stumbled upon the drugs before anyone else, leading to its untimely death. 

You can see cocaine bear at Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall

cocaine bear
The Cocaine Bear, now shown at the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall | Matt Stone/Courier Journal

A taxidermied version of cocaine bear is on display at Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall. You’ll note that the bear in Kentucky is much smaller than the ruthless killer in Cocaine Bear

According to a blog post by the Mall, its employees pulled all the stops to find the taxidermied bear. The upload claims that Dr. Alonso gave the bear’s body to a hunter who performed taxidermy and gifted it to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. 

In the 90s, the bear disappeared following an evacuation of the area’s facilities. Someone sold it to a pawn shop which contacted taxidermy collector and country legend Waylon Jennings. Waylon bought the bear for his and Andrew Thornton’s mutual friend Ron Thompson. The blog post reads:

“We couldn’t find out for sure if Jennings knew Thornton personally, but he definitely knew what he was about. So when Jennings had a chance to nab the infamous cocaine bear he took it, thinking it would make the perfect gift/inside joke for his buddy Ron Thompson.”

After Thompson’s death, Zhu T’ang, a Chinese immigrant, purchased the bear at auction. Zhu’s wife saved the bear following Zhu’s death in 2012, though she never liked it. She told the Mall:

“He was always bringing home junk from auctions and estate sales and things like that. The bear was one of his favorite things. He just loved it for some reason. At first, he wanted to keep it in our living room but I wouldn’t have it. It scared me. I made him take it to the store.”

Zhu’s wife cheerfully handed ‘the damn thing’ to Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall, where it stands today.