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The Real Cocaine Bear Is Still Out There In The World

In November of 2022, a new poster for "Cocaine Bear" dropped on Twitter, providing viewers with one of their first visual looks at its titular character. Boasting perhaps the most self-explanatory movie title since "Snakes On a Plane," the Elizabeth Banks-directed thriller tells the story of a bear that goes on a rampage after ingesting a large supply of cocaine from a drug runner's crashed plane. Over the course of its runtime, the film follows several people converging on a nearby town as they attempt to escape or subdue the coked-up beast.

While "Cocaine Bear" features a cast that includes Keri Russell, Margo Martindale, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and the late late Ray Liotta in his final role, it's safe to say that this is a movie that nevertheless hopes to draw viewers in on the sheer absurdity of its premise first and foremost. It's perhaps all the more surprising, then, that "Cocaine Bear" is based on true events, as detailed on its first poster. In fact, not only is the real-life story still in the cultural zeitgeist decades after it happened, but the actual bear is still out in the world to this day.

The real Cocaine Bear resides at the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington

While the very bear that inspired the rampaging movie slasher in "Cocaine Bear" may still be at large, so to speak, the real Cocaine Bear's existence isn't as sensational as some might think. Rather, the Cocaine Bear's brief history is more sad than thrilling. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the true story began in 1985, when a narcotics officer-turned-drug smuggler Andrew Thornton fell from a plane he was flying over Knoxville, Tennessee. Among the items in Thornton's possession was around 75 pounds of cocaine, some of which was ingested by a 175-pound black bear that happened upon the plane's wreckage.

The bear, sadly, died, as would happen to any creature that manages to eat several pounds of cocaine, regardless of ferocity. A medical examiner found that the poor thing showed signs of a range of health complications, from cerebral hemorrhaging to heart failure to respiratory failure. After its cause of death was determined, the late bear's body was taxidermied and bounced around between various owners, including country legend Waylon Jennings.

Today, Cocaine Bear's home is among various oddities at the Kentucky For Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington. According to owners, he still attracts a large number of visitors interested in his sensational, albeit somewhat tragic story.

Cocaine Bear is a major tourist attraction in Kentucky

The Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall, where the taxidermied Cocaine Bear currently resides, isn't a mall in the traditional sense. Rather, it's more of a hybrid gift shop and tourist attraction, selling Kentucky-themed goods and, as outlined in a mission statement on the Kentucky for Kentucky website, promoting its home state's past and present history. The store also sells online and presumably in person a wide range of Cocaine Bear merchandise, to the extent that its website dedicates an entire tab to its Cocaine Bear merch page.

In fact, Anne Livengood, who helps run the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall, told Inside Edition that she believes their acquisition of the real bear was largely responsible for his present day notoriety. Previously, she explained, the bear bounced between owners, whereas Kentucky for Kentucky made him the focus of an exhibit dedicated to circulating his story in as much detail and among as wide of an audience as possible.

So, while his fictional counterpart is terrorizing innocent humans on the silver screen, those interested in the bear's history can join the many tourists who make a point to see Cocaine Bear in the flesh at his present day Kentucky home.