Cocaine Bear: The incredible true story behind the rampaging animal film that's captivated cinema lovers

1 December 2022, 14:44 | Updated: 1 December 2022, 15:15

Cocaine Bear is out next year
Cocaine Bear is out next year. Picture: Universal Pictures

By Will Taylor

Social media has gone wild with tweets about new Hollywood film Cocaine Bear – and users are even more amazed that the story is at least partially true.

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The bluntly-titled film sees the eponymous animal go on a rampage in the woods, viciously attacking the characters as they try to escape its spree.

But it has drawn more focus to the wild story that inspired the horror comedy, and it involves a failed drug smuggling plot in 1980s America.

The mad trailer for the film shows human characters flee a bear that has eaten a vast quantity of cocaine that is accidentally dropped from a plane in the forest in Georgia.

The preview was put out by a Twitter account with an image of the bear as its profile picture, and the tweet said simply: "I'm the bear who ate cocaine. This is my story."

Characters including Ray Liotta – his final film role – and Keri Russell are forced to contend with the cocaine-addled beast.

At that point, the film has deviated – but it is inspired by a real event where a bear took on large amounts of the Class A drug during a botched smuggling operation.

In 1985, drug smuggler Andrew Thornton was flying cocaine from Colombia in a Cessna aircraft over the state of Georgia, where he dropped packages of the substance worth millions.

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The 40-year-old - who was previously a narcotics officer - then parachuted out, leaving the Cessna to crash, but fell to his death in the driveway of a home in Knoxville, Tennessee.

It is believed he may have hit his head on the tail of the aeroplane as he bailed out and failed to open his parachute.

He had 75 pounds of cocaine on him and thousands in cash, as well as two pistols, night vision goggles, a bulletproof vest and Gucci loafers.

The bear is now displayed in Fun Mall, Lexington, Kentucky
The bear is now displayed in Fun Mall, Lexington, Kentucky. Picture: KY for KY
The bear launches a rampage after taking cocaine - a significant deviation from the real story
The bear launches a rampage after taking cocaine - a significant deviation from the real story. Picture: Universal Pictures

Investigators traced his flightpath and found nine duffel bags containing cocaine that he had dropped from the Cessna.

There was a tenth, however – ingested by a 175lb black bear in Chattahoochee National Forest, which pushes to Georgia's northern border with Kentucky and North Carolina.

The mammal, who was also nicknamed Pablo Escobear after the notorious Colombian drug lord, had died.

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The amount the bear had eaten was worth millions of pounds, with a medical examiner in Kentucky saying the animal's stomach was "literally packed to the brim with cocaine".

Elizabeth Banks directed Cocaine Bear
Elizabeth Banks directed Cocaine Bear. Picture: Getty

"There isn't a mammal on the planet that could survive that," the examiner said.

It had suffered a massive amount of health problems from the vast quantity it had eaten, including heart failure, stroke and hyperthermia.

The bear's legacy lives on, though. His body was stuffed by a taxidermist, and it is displayed in the Fun Mall in Lexington, Kentucky.

Unlike the film, it did not go on a vicious killing rampage - but that won't put off eager cinema goers enthralled by the film's simple premise and eye-widening title.

Cocaine Bear, directed by Elizabeth Banks, is due out early next year.

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