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The true story behind Elizabeth Banks' new film 'Cocaine Bear'

It was announced earlier this month that Elizabeth Banks would be directing a new film on the biz...
Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

15.04 20 Mar 2021


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The true story behind Elizabet...

The true story behind Elizabeth Banks' new film 'Cocaine Bear'

Marita Moloney
Marita Moloney

15.04 20 Mar 2021


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It was announced earlier this month that Elizabeth Banks would be directing a new film on the bizarre true-life tale of the 'cocaine bear'.

Cocaine Bear will be a “character-driven thriller" with a stranger than fiction storyline.

It centres on a real-life bear who sniffed out some cocaine in the woods in the US during the 1980s.

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Sally Denton, an investigative reporter, historian and author of The Bluegrass Conspiracy: An Inside Story of Power, Greed, Drugs and Murder, explained the true story on the Moncrieff programme this week.

"The cocaine bear is one little tiny part if a much larger story," she said.

Ms Denton broke the story as a reporter in Kentucky in the 1980s of a bear who ingested 75 pounds of cocaine in the Chattahoochee National Forest in north Georgia in 1985.

The true story behind Elizabeth Banks' new film 'Cocaine Bear'

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The discovery of the bear sone became linked to Andrew Thornton, a former narcotics officer and ex-lawyer, who had become the head of an international drug smuggling operation.

His body was discovered on a driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee with a failed parachute on his back.

He was found wearing a bulletproof vest and night vision goggles and carrying two pistols. Beside his body was a bag containing around 75 pounds of cocaine.

Investigators later discovered he had jumped from a plane that he had also been using to drop duffel bags of cocaine, which is where cocaine bear comes in.

Ms Denton said Thornton had largely been under the radar among the public, although law enforcement was aware of the "stupendously sophisticated operation" run by him and his crime organisation.

"It wasn't until he parachuted with 80 pounds of cocaine on September 11th, 1985 and the parachute didn't open in Knoxville, Tennessee that [he received] all the attention," she said.

"He was flying from Colombia with a load [of drugs] into Knoxville, Tennessee, they [the gang] traditionally did this, they would drop loads in duffel bags in various places on a map.

"This is a deal that went bad, when he parachuted out they were being chased by customs in a chase plane so they had to start throwing bags before they were expecting to."

Thornton parachuted out and died, and it wasn't until a few months later that officials in Georgia found a "dead bear next to a duffel bag of cocaine that he had overdosed on".

The medical examiner who performed an autopsy on cocaine bear said the cause of death was: “Cerebral haemorrhaging, respiratory failure, hyperthermia, renal failure, heart failure, stroke. You name it, that bear had it.

"Its stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine. There isn't a mammal on the planet that could survive that."

A store called Kentucky for Kentucky found the bear and he has since been taxidermied and that's where he is today.

Ms Denton, whose book documents the story, says the tourist attraction is now the third most popular destination in the state.

She added that at one stage, country singer Waylon Jennings was in possession of the stuffed bear.

Main image: File photo of a black bear. Credit: Xinhua/Xie Jianfei

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