KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — “Millions of dollars worth of cocaine fell from the sky this morning in Knoxville, Tennessee,” says a news anchor in a trailer for an upcoming movie “inspired by true events.” That can’t be true… can it?
It is. The first trailer for the Universal Pictures film “Cocaine Bear” was released Wednesday, racking up over 11 million views in less than 24 hours on Twitter. “An oddball group of cops, criminals, tourists, and teens converge in a Georgia forest where a 500-pound black bear goes on a murderous rampage after unintentionally ingesting cocaine,” a description of the movie on imdb.com states.
While there was no real-life rampage, the horror comedy does draw on real events. On Sept 11, 1985, law enforcement descended on a house near Knoxville’s Island Home Airport where a parachutist was found dead.
“A parachuting smuggler wearing combat fatigues and carrying pistols and knives plunged to his death today in a backyard when his parachute failed to open,” a New York Times report reads. “At his side was 79 pounds of cocaine.”
The parachutist was identified as 41-year-old Andrew Thornton, a former Army paratrooper and narcotics officer for the Lexington, Ky., Police Department. The botched operation attempting to smuggle hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Colombia to America led to the death of a black bear in Georgia and sent investigators to follow a trail of evidence across the Southeast.
An unmanned Cessna airplane crashed into a mountain in North Carolina an hour after Thornton’s death in Knoxville, the Associated Press wrote.
A key to the plane was found in his pocket. Clothes, maps of Jamaica and a pilot’s logbook bearing the Cessna’s number were found about 30 miles south of Atlanta days later.
More than 200 pounds of cocaine were found in a remote wooded area of Fannin County, Georgia in the days after Thornton’s death, according to the AP. Another bag containing 75 pounds was found nearby on Nov. 5, 1985.
Agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found the remains of a bear weighing more than 150 pounds near the duffel bag and 40 packages of cocaine that had been ripped open and scattered over a hillside in late December, the AP reported.
Investigators said the bear had been dead about four weeks, the AP report states, and was found within 100 yards of where the three duffel bags containing over 200 pounds were found shortly after Thornton’s death.
On Dec. 24, 1985, the AP reported that Georgia chief medical examiner Dr. Kenneth Alonso said an autopsy revealed that the bear absorbed three or four grams of cocaine into its bloodstream. Though Alonso said it was possible that it may have eaten more.
“Cocaine Bear” is scheduled to hit theaters on Feb. 24, 2023. The movie was directed by Elizabeth Banks and the cast includes Elizabeth Banks, Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, O’Shea Jackson Jr. and Ray Liotta in one of his final performances before his death.
A bear purported to be the movie’s real-life muse is now on display at the “Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall” in Lexington. The business, which sells a line of party animal-themed merchandise, claims to have acquired the taxidermy bear after a wild tale involving several different owners including country music legend Waylon Jennings.