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The untold truth of Joe Exotic

Following the success of similar true crime series like Don't F**k with Cats, Making a Murderer, The Staircase, and more, Netflix unleashed unto the world its newest entry into the popular genre: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. The streamer dropped the docuseries, directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, on March 20, and it didn't take long for Tiger King to become the talk of the internet.

Tiger King recounts the bizarre life and times of the titular tiger breeder, an oddball big cat enthusiast who also goes by the pseudonym Joe Exotic. According to the New York Post, Exotic (whose real name is Joe Maldonado-Passage, and whose birth name is Joseph Schreibvogel) grew up in rural Kansas, where he was an agriculturally-minded youth. He loved animals and participated actively in 4-H, a network of organizations that provide children with hands-on education programs. After leaving Kansas in the 1990s, he purchased an Oklahoma horse farm and transformed the space into a makeshift zoo featuring — what else? — tigers.

The Netflix docuseries explores just how Exotic went from 4-H and breeding big cats to polygamy, bigamy, and murder plots — it's a wild ride. Here's everything you need to know about the series' flamboyant subject.

Joe Exotic's many husbands

Over its tight seven-episode run, Tiger King spends ample time exploring Exotic's colorful love life. An openly gay man, Exotic was once married to two different men at the same time: John Finlay and Travis Maldonado. This wasn't just any off-the-books throuple — the three men made their nuptials official in 2014. In addition to the polyamory, Exotic readily admits that he had a habit of falling for "very young and very rough" straight guys. That dynamic may have been playing out in his marriage, since acquaintances of the troubled trio claim that neither Finlay nor Maldonado was gay (via USA Today).

What might drive two heterosexual men to marry Joe Exotic? Apparently it had a lot to do with presents and drugs. John Reinke, the former manager at Exotic's Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (G.W. Zoo), said there wasn't ever much love involved in the arrangement. "I'm sure it was the cars that he bought John Finlay, the guns he bought John Finlay, the four-wheelers he bought John Finlay," Reinke said. "If they wanted it, they got it. All they had to do was ask."

Finlay wound up leaving Exotic, and the story has a tragic ending for Maldonado, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2017. Exotic's political campaign manager Josh Dial, who witnessed the death, claimed Maldonado felt like a prisoner at the park. According to reporting done by the Associated Press, the authorities at the time ruled that Maldonado's death was an accident.

Exotic had even more husbands and boyfriends beyond Finlay and Maldonado, however. He was previously married to Brian Rhyne, whom he met at a gay bar in the 1980s, when Rhyne was just 19. After more than 10 years of marriage, Rhyne passed away in 2001 due to complications related to HIV. Then, Exotic met 24-year-old Jeffrey Charles "J.C." Hartpence, and the two had a reportedly "violent" and "rocky" relationship. Hartpence is serving a life sentence for murder. While in a relationship with Finlay, Exotic also engaged in romantic activities with an individual named Paul, who was out of Exotic's life before Maldonado was in it.

Joe Exotic faked a country music career

That suspiciously angelic country singing featured in the docuseries? That's Joe Exotic's music. Except, not really. Although it might not be the most sensational aspect of Exotic's life, his lip-sync karaoke videos parading as authentic country jams are certainly noteworthy.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Exotic's songs are all actually the work of songwriter Vince Johnson and singer Danny Clinton. The two worked on commission for Exotic on the promise of exposure via a trumped-up reality TV show that never came to pass. The tracks eventually made their way onto Exotic's personal YouTube channel, and were available as a pair of albums sold exclusively at G.W. Zoo. His oeuvre includes classic big-cat themed hits like "Here Kitty Kitty" and "I Saw a Tiger." A little on-the-nose perhaps, but country music isn't known for subtlety.

Johnson and Clinton weren't credited on the tracks, and to this day, Exotic claims that the songs were his and that he's actually singing in them and in the accompanying videos. Both claims are demonstrably bogus. During the filming of Tiger King, Exotic swore up and down that he was genuinely performing in the videos, even though he refused to replicate the musical feat in person.

Johnson remains good humored about the whole episode. "We all get what's coming to us in the end," he wrote in an email exchange with Vanity Fair. "Joe, all in all, was likable. Most people just bore the hell out of me. They have the personality of a lobster. He's a seedy shyster, but he's got personality." Can't argue with him there.

Joe Exotic is currently doing time for murder for hire

The narrative arc of Tiger King culminates in one unconscionable act — shocking even by the standards set by Joe Exotic. Although Exotic professed to love big cats, many of the practices in place at G.W. Zoo were questionable to say the least. That ran Exotic afoul of animal rights activists, most prominently Carole Baskin, who became a kind of arch nemesis for Exotic. It's worth noting that the personal animosity doesn't appear to have been reciprocated. According to the New York Post, Baskin insists that she never had any personal vendetta against Exotic. She was simply concerned for the wellbeing of the big cats held at G.W. Zoo.

Fed up with Baskin's meddling, Exotic allegedly hired a hitman to put an end to her interference once and for all. According to the docuseries, Exotic paid one of his handymen, Allen Glover, $3,000 to take Baskin out. Glover accepted the money, though he denies he ever planned on going through with the hit.

This series of events resulted in Exotic's 2018 arrest. He was subsequently charged with 19 felonies and found guilty on all counts, including the attempted murder for hire. He is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence in an Oklahoma facility.