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The True Story Behind ‘Cocaine Bear’: A 175-Pound Beast, a Dead Drug Smuggler in Gucci Loafers and More

Elizabeth Banks’ “Cocaine Bear” is now playing in theaters, bringing with it an onslaught of detached limbs, blood-soaked bodies and gory mayhem. But that’s not exactly how one would describe the real story of the Cocaine Bear, also known as Pablo Eskobear. Banks’ film, scripted by Jimmy Warden, is inspired by the 1985 discovery of a dead bear in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest.

The true story behind “Cocaine Bear” started in September 1985, when convicted drug smuggler Andrew Thornton died after a parachuting accident. The working theory is that Thorton was traveling in a plane with 880 pounds of cocaine and thought the Feds were trailing him, so he decided to throw some of the stash out of the plane and take some more with him when he parachuted out. His plan went awry.

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Thorton was reported dead on Sept. 11, 1985. He was found in a driveway in Knoxville, Tenn. wearing Gucci loafers and with roughly $15 million worth of cocaine strapped to his body.

A bear did not enter the picture until four months later. The New York Times reported in December 1985 that a 175-pound black bear “died of an overdose of cocaine after discovering a batch of the drug.” The bear was found dead in Chattahoochee National Forest.

“The cocaine was apparently dropped from a plane piloted by Andrew Thornton, a convicted drug smuggler who died Sept. 11 in Knoxville, Tenn., because he was carrying too heavy a load while parachuting,” read the United Press International report in The Times. “The bureau said the bear was found Friday in northern Georgia among 40 opened plastic containers with traces of cocaine.”

The Associated Press later reported findings from Dr. Kenneth Alonso, Georgia’s chief medical examiner at the time. The doctor performed an autopsy on the bear and found that it had three or four grams of cocaine in its blood stream, although the bear could have consumed even more. Rumors have long circulated that the bear ate all 40 containers worth of cocaine, which would be about 35 pounds.

That’s about as far as the story of the Cocaine Bear goes in real life. Unlike the new Universal Pictures-backed horror comedy, there were no other casualties or severed limbs found in the forest that linked back to the bear. As screenwriter Jimmy Warden told Variety, the film is not historical fiction but “my twisted fantasy of what I wish actually happened after the bear did all that cocaine.”

Banks told Variety she signed on to direct “Cocaine Bear” because she saw it as an opportunity to give the bear his own point of view. She said she had “a deep sympathy for the bear” after reading the original reports from 1985.

“I really felt like this is so fucked up that this bear got dragged into this drug run gone bad and ends up dead,” Banks said. “I felt like this movie could be that bear’s revenge story.”

“Cocaine Bear” is now playing in theaters nationwide.

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