Cocaine Bear: The Real Story

YoYo Sine, Staff Writer

Recently, a movie called “Cocaine Bear” by director Elizabeth Banks came out in theaters. The plot follows a bear who consumes millions of dollars of cocaine, hence the title, and goes on a drug induced rampage. Crazy, I know, but even crazier is the fact that this is a true story. A bear did actually got into millions of dollars worth of cocaine, but it never actually went on a rampage. This is the story of the real cocaine bear.

Our story starts with Andrew Thornton II. A student at Sayre School, Thornton joined the Polo club before later transferring to Sewanee Military Academy. He graduated in 1962 and attended the University of Kentucky for one semester before joining the army. Thornton had a lot of academic achievements and later went back to college graduating with a law degree. Following his education and enlisting in the army, he joined the police force. He became a part of the county’s narcotics squad in the early ‘70s.

After all of this, he began smuggling drugs, and using the knowledge from law school to get out of trouble. Coleman Larkin from Kentucky for Kentucky shares that, “In 1981, he was accused of stealing weapons from a California naval base and conspiring to smuggle half a ton of pot into the U.S.” Larkin says that he pleaded not guilty and was arrested as a fugitive in North Carolina. He somehow managed to get these felony charges dropped and got off with a small fine, six months in prison, and a suspended law license. As soon as he was released, Thornton returned to smuggling drugs.

After purchasing a plane, Thornton boarded 40 containers of cocaine, and a duffle bag with 75 more pounds of cocaine. Thornton was equipped with night vision goggles, a bullet proof vest, Gucci loafers, $4,500 dollars, knives, and two guns. He dropped millions of dollars worth of cocaine in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia, and attempted to abandon the plane via parachute. Unfortunately for Thornton, that backfired as he was carrying a heavy load, causing the parachute to fail. He ultimately fell to his death.

Photo via Pixabay under Pixabay License

After Thornton’s death, a bear was found dead at the crash site, from an overdose. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation a “175-pound black bear apparently died of an overdose of cocaine after discovering a batch of the drug, said today.” Kentucky for Kentucky did more research on the bear, contacting the Georgia Bureau. They were able to contact the retired medical examiner who performed the bear’s necropsy (an autopsy for an animal). The medical examiner provided information discussing the bear’s cause of death and the extent of the cocaine overdose that the bear suffered.

 He said it wasn’t common for him to examine animals, but from time to time animals were involved with criminal investigations. Nevertheless, the cocaine bear stood out to him as a particularly strange incident. “Its stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine. 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.’” Although the bear’s internal shape had long deteriorated, its exterior was intact, so the medical expert brought the bear to a taxidermy friend of his, and sent it off as a gift to the  Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

In the early ’90s, the threat of an approaching wildfire prompted park employees to evacuate the area’s facilities. They took the few artifacts they had, including the cocaine bear, and put it in temporary storage in a nearby town called Dalton. A month later, the bear had disappeared. It had been sold to the country singer Waylon Jennings. Rumor had it that Jennings probably knew Thornton. Jennings had given Thompson the bear.  “When Thompson died in 2009, much of his estate was sold at auction. We called the auction house and asked if they still had the manifest. They did. And there it was. 26th on the list. Right after a lot of custom suits for a very stocky man. One (1) taxidermied North American black bear.

The bear was sold to one Zhu T’ang, who used it as a decoration for a shop that he ran. The bear was decor in the store because his wife absolutely hated the bear, even though Zhu was infatuated with it. Afterwards the bear was gifted to Kentucky for Kentucky. And that’s the real story of Cocaine Bear, who traveled all across the US after dying of an overdose, the bear’s new residence is in Kentucky for Kentucky’s “Fun Mall,” where you can now even get merchandise of the black bear.