From here, the story of the Cocaine Bear’s final days is known only to squirrels, river otters, and possibly Bigfoot. Humans don’t re-enter the picture until December when the body of a black bear is discovered by Georgian federal officials attempting to reconstruct the path of Thornton’s last drug run. With the dead bear is a lot of cocaine. Like, a three-part Very Special Episode of Miami Vice amount: nearly 90 lbs of white powder, at a street value of $20 million. What wasn’t present at the scene were any human victims. Sorry, movie fans. The only living thing the Cocaine Bear took out in his drug-fueled frenzy was himself.
The adult bear’s age isn’t certain, though at 175 pounds, he was either still pretty young, coping with a lean season, or he had discovered the weight suppressant ability of all that nose candy he’d been chomping down. The feds sent the bear to a medical examiner as part of their criminal investigation. The examiner’s findings were… definitely something. For animal lovers, this is where the truth gets grim.
According to the Cocaine Bear’s official merch website, the poor creature’s stomach was packed full of cocaine when he died. The medical examiner went on to claim that just about every horrorshow outcome of a drug overdose had occurred, quote, “Cerebral hemorrhaging, respiratory failure, hyperthermia, renal failure, heart failure, stroke. You name it, that bear had it.”
Though it sounds more like the soon-to-be-legendary bear was Keith Richards’ personal portrait in the attic, it gets far worse for the big fella than the upcoming movie posits. The medical examiner, impressed with the bear’s external condition, packed him off to a taxidermist friend. The resultant stuffed bear was then put on display at the Chattanooga River National Recreation Area, without its infamy spelled out for visitors. It eventually got lost in a storage room shuffle during the early ‘90s, after which some artifacts ended up in a local pawn shop. Including the bear.
The Cocaine Bear’s next leg of his journey involves country music legend Waylon Jennings, and if he doesn’t have a tune on the movie soundtrack, director Elizabeth Banks missed a trick. Jennings liked collecting Americana curios, and, allegedly, he was friends with a former Thornton associate and Vegas gadfly named Ron Thompson. The bear, now one of history’s weirdest white elephant gifts, stayed in Thompson’s mansion until an estate sale in 2009 landed our protagonist in a Chinese medicine shop, where it would grimace mildly at tourists looking for ginseng and acupuncture treatments.