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Story of 'Cocaine Bear' heads to the big screen, Kentucky moviegoers meet the stuffed star

For almost 40 years, the cocaine bear was a stranger than fiction true story that many couldn't believe happened. Now, millions can see an adapted version.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — It’s a tale as old as time, when a curious black bear stumbles upon some Kentucky contraband.

“All I know is it’s a movie about cocaine and a bear,” moviegoer Ann Prewitt joked. 

For almost 40 years, the cocaine bear was a stranger than fiction true story that many couldn't believe happened.

In 1985, a Lexington narcotics investigator named Andrew Thornton was smuggling hundreds of pounds of cocaine on an airplane.

The plane started to go down and that's when Thornton bailed out of the plane, but died because he was too heavy for the parachute —  with 75 pounds of cocaine on him.

His body came down on Suburban Street in Knoxville, and his cargo and plane spread from North Carolina to Georgia. 

The cocaine was found torn into and scattered along a Georgia hillside, and investigators found something they never expected. A black bear was discovered dead from eating the cocaine. The bear overdosed. 

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, at the time, they believed the bear ate millions of dollars worth of that cocaine.

Now, millions can see an adapted version of the tale on the big screen.

“I just love the whole absurdity of it," moviegoer Hannah Bockbrader said. "It’s that 'truth is stranger than fiction' and it's a bear that took a bunch of cocaine."


From your casual cocaine bear indulgers, to the fanatics, everyone was ready — not just to watch, but buy-in to Kentucky’s favorite party animal. There were shirts, hats and books being sold with the grizzly.

"We have these great cocaine bear cookies," Lisa Meek, chair on the Friends of the Kentucky Theatre board, said. "They come in chocolate and gingerbread. They look like they’ve gotten into the real stuff, but it’s just powdered sugar and icing.”

If one thing is for sure this weekend, the tale of Kentucky’s cocaine bear remains live and well.

"It’s just been a roller coaster. I mean, we’re getting people from all over the world," Adam Lewis, retail manager at Kentucky for Kentucky, said.

Though at Kentucky for Kentucky, you’d be hard pressed not to know about cocaine bear all the time — affectionately known to staff as “Cokey.”

"It’s really become a cult following, it’s a cult classic I feel like,” Lewis said.

For the last decade, cocaine bear has called the Lexington retail shop home. Lewis says people travel internationally, every year, just to see the taxidermy stuffed bear in-person.

"They just wanna see this little bear. I mean, he’s not as big as you’d think he is," Lewis said.

While he may be small in stature, the tale of Kentucky’s cocaine bear is anything but.

Cocaine Bear has already gotten some raving reviews from fans, currently sitting with a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 78 percent.

Get your tickets for Cocaine Bear here.

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