The True Story of Cocaine Bear: What Really Happened?

Watch the trailer for Cocaine Bear

The story behind Cocaine Bear Stit seems too incredible to be true.

Elizabeth Banks’ new comedy-thriller, due out next February, tells the story of a black bear who goes on a homicidal rampage after eating huge amounts of cocaine.

The movie’s tagline states that it’s “inspired by true events,” but how much of the cocaine bear did it really happen?

The real story behind Cocaine Bear

Cocaine Bear story of a drug-fueled black bear who goes on a homicidal rampage. (Universal)

The story of Cocaine Bear is loosely based on the events of a drug smuggling operation that went awry in September 1985.

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Andrew Thornton, a former U.S. narcotics officer, was dropping bags of cocaine into Georgia from a light aircraft during a smuggling run from Colombia. After reporting engine trouble, he jumped out, but hit his head on the tail of the plane and his parachute failed to deploy.

Ray Liotta in Cocaine Bear (Universal Pictures)

Ray Liotta in Cocaine Bear (Universal Pictures)

The 40-year-old died on impact on a driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee, 50 miles away. He wore night-vision goggles, a bulletproof vest and Gucci loafers, and carried guns, knives, thousands of dollars in cash, as well as $15 million worth of cocaine packages. The self-driving plane was later found to have crashed in Hayesville, North Carolina.

Three months later, a 170-pound black bear was found dead in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest after eating cocaine from a bag left behind by Thornton. Gary Garner, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) official, said: ‘The bear got there before we could, and he opened his duffel bag, took cocaine from him and he overdosed. [of the bear] but bones and a thick hide.”

    Elizabeth Banks attends the 2022 LACMA Art+Film Gala

Elizabeth Banks directed the film, which will be released next year. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for LACMA)

It is unclear how much the bear ingested. All 40 packages of cocaine – 40 kg in total, worth $20 million – had been ripped open and were empty. An autopsy found that the animal absorbed only three or four grams of cocaine into its bloodstream, although it could have eaten more.

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There is no evidence, however, that the bear went on a rampage, as depicted in Cocaine Bear. In reality, the animal likely died quickly after ingesting the drug. “It wouldn’t have taken much to kill him,” said another GBI official, Fran Wiley. “He could have eaten a pound and it would have killed him.”

Kerry Washington in Cocaine Bear (Universal Pictures)

Kerry Washington in Cocaine Bear (Universal Pictures)

The animal’s stomach was “literally filled to the brim with cocaine,” according to the coroner who performed the autopsy. “There’s not a mammal on the planet that could survive this. Brain hemorrhage, respiratory failure, hyperthermia, kidney failure, heart failure, stroke. You name it, that bear had it.”

The bear’s body was later stuffed and is now on display at the Fun Mall in Lexington, Kentucky where it was nicknamed the “Pablo Esco-bear”.

Cocaine bear will be released on February 24, 2023.

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