The story of Cocaine Bear is an unusual one. Andrew Carter Thornton II, a former narcotics officer and a leader of a local drug-smuggling ring, thought he had found his calling.
He was in the midst of his most ambitious drug run yet when his parachute opened too late on September 11, 1985, sending him crashing into a backyard in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The 40-year-old was wearing a bulletproof vest, night-vision goggles, and Gucci loafers when he died instantly from the fall. However, another failure during his fatal mission would prove to have a much longer legacy.
In an attempt to lighten their load, Thornton was forced to dump about 200 pounds of cocaine by parachute over Georgia. Unfortunately, an American black bear got hold of one of the duffel bags of drugs and started eating the cocaine.
The bear died of what the coroner described as a stomach “literally packed to the brim with cocaine,” and the animal was given a new name in popular culture: “Cocaine Bear.”
Cocaine Bear the Movie
A new movie inspired by the true events poses a counterfactual: What would have happened if the bear had survived and gone on a killing rampage? “Cocaine Bear,” a dark comedy that premiered in theaters nationwide on Friday, is a highly fictionalized account. In the movie, the titular 500-pound American black bear eats a duffel bag of cocaine and goes on a killing spree in Georgia, forcing tourists to band together to survive an apex predator hopped up on coke. The trailer for the movie went viral late last year, racking up more than 16 million views on YouTube.
Although the movie is a fictionalized account, the true story behind it is just as intriguing. Before he turned to drug smuggling and made a bear famous, Thornton lived the high life. He was raised on a thoroughbred horse farm in Bourbon County, Kentucky, and dropped out of college after one semester to join the Army. He became a paratrooper for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and was later awarded a Purple Heart for his service during the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965.
Andrew C. Thornton II the story behind the man
Thornton’s life took a turn when he joined the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Police Department’s narcotics squad in 1966. He became increasingly paranoid and resigned from the police department in 1977 to join a smuggling ring in Kentucky. The ring was linked to a larger group called “The Company,” a syndicate running drugs and guns that authorities estimated in 1980 had more than 300 members and $26 million worth of boats and planes.
Thornton’s shift to drug smuggling was due to his adrenaline-seeking personality. His ex-wife, Betty Zairing, described him as a philosophical, incredibly disciplined, extremely spiritual, and loyal warrior, with his code of ethics, who thrived on excitement. However, his adventurous life came to an abrupt end on that fateful day in 1985 when he died during his most ambitious drug run.
The bear story captured the imagination of cinefiles
The bear’s story is unique and has captured the imagination of many, including Jimmy Warden, who wrote the screenplay for the movie. Warden was initially drawn to Thornton and the circumstances surrounding his death, which resulted in what the screenwriter described as “the perfect setup” for the film. The true story of Cocaine Bear is a tale of a smuggler, a deadly fall, and a famous bear, and it is sure to continue to intrigue and captivate for years to come.