A trailer for a new movie that’s hitting theaters in February is going viral online and no doubt stirring the imaginations of anyone who will spend time in bear country. Both the name of the film, “Cocaine Bear,” and its subject, an adult black bear on a cocaine-fueled rampage, seem B-movie preposterous. And yet it’s nowhere near as far from the truth as you’d think.
The film stars the late Ray Liotta as a drug kingpin who loses several hundred pounds of cocaine while smuggling the drugs via Cessna over the rugged mountains of southern Appalachia. In the aftermath of the smuggler’s blunder, a black bear finds and ingests the coke—and the violent chaos that ensues is predictably terrifying. What no one could predict about Elizabeth Bank’s new film, however, is that its storyline is loosely based on a real-life cocaine-eating bruin.
The Real Cocaine Bear
The real story dates back to 1985 and involves a 175-pound black bear that inhabited the mountains around the small town of Blue Ridge, Georgia. That bear died of an apparent cocaine overdose after consuming a large batch of the drug that it stumbled upon in the forest, according to a brief report published in the New York Times.
“The cocaine was apparently dropped from a plane piloted by Andrew Thornton, a convicted drug smuggler who [later] died in Knoxville, Tenn. because he was carrying too heavy a load while parachuting,” reads the Times report from December 23, 1985. “The [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] said the bear was found Friday in northern Georgia among 40 opened containers with traces of cocaine.”
According to another story, published in the Associated Press one day earlier, each plastic container contained a kilogram of cocaine, and the whole lot totaled 88 pounds in all. In 1985, that amount of cocaine was valued at about $20 million, the AP said.
“The bear got to it before we could, and he tore the duffle bag open, got him some cocaine and OD’d,” Gary Gardner of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation told the AP at the time. “There’s nothing left but bones and a big hide.”
The Georgia State Crime Lab later conducted an autopsy on the dead bear and found that it had absorbed at least 4 grams of cocaine into its bloodstream. Officials believed that the dead bear was just one of multiple bears—or humans—that ingested the “sweet smelling powder” in the north Georgia woods back in the fall of 1985.
The Cocaine Bear was Discovered by a Hunter
The bear had been dead for some time when an unidentified hunter found it on a hillside in the Chattahoochee National Forest. According to a follow-up story in the AP from December 24, 1985, approximately three weeks went by before that hunter reported the bear to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and a whole lot of the missing cocaine went unaccounted for in the interim.
“The question is: What happened to that duffel bag?” the Georgia medical examiner who performed the bear autopsy told the AP. “The bear does not account for the full duffel bag.”
Over the years, the Cocaine Bear has taken on new life in the local lore of the southern Appalachian region where its body was found. Also referred to as “Pablo Escobear”, the bruin’s full-body mount is said to be on display at the Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington, Kentucky. There’s even a rumor that the mount was briefly owned by country music icon Waylon Jennings, but the New York Times was unable to substantiate those claims. As for the unnamed hunter who found the original Cocaine Bear’s drug-addled corpse, he or she has managed to remain anonymous to this day.