Is Cocaine Bear a True Story? Facts Check 2023!
In 1985, police in Georgia found a 175-pound black bear that had overdosed on cocaine in a forest. The body of the animal was found next to a duffel bag that had held more than 70 pounds of cocaine before it was dropped from a plane by a drug smuggler.
But the bag had been torn open, and empty packets of the Class-A drug, which was worth about $15 million, were all over the forest because the predator had eaten a lot of it.
Now, actress and director Elizabeth Banks have brought the strange true story of the so-called “Cocaine Bear” to the big screen.
The horror-comedy, which has just hit theatres, stars Keri Russell, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Isiah Whitlock Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Margo Martindale, and Ray Liotta in his last movie role before he dies in 2022. Liotta (Goodfellas) plays drug kingpin Syd, who, with the help of his son Eddie, tries to get Thornton's stash back.
But how much of the film is fictional? Did the Cocaine Bear really kill anyone? Read on to find out everything you need to know about Cocaine Bear's real story.
Is Cocaine Bear Based on True Events?
The horror-comedy is based on a true story about a 175-pound black bear that found and ate millions of pounds worth of cocaine in a Georgia forest in December 1985. In real life, the bear ate the cocaine, which was worth about $15 million, and then overdosed. It was found by people looking for drugs dropped by a drug smuggler in the air, Andrew Thornton.
An article from the time by the Associated Press said that authorities thought the bear had eaten “several million dollars worth of the cocaine.” Gary Garner of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation told the news outlet, “The bear got to it before we did. He tore open the duffel bag, got some cocaine, and overdosed.”
“All that's left of the animal is bones and a big hide,” he said.
As for how the cocaine got into the forest, it was thought that Thornton, a former lawyer and narcotics police officer, had dumped the packages from his plane when he came back from a cocaine haul in Colombia a few months earlier. Thornton put the plane on autopilot after he dropped the packages, and then he parachuted out with more drugs attached to his body.
It was a move that led to his death when his parachute didn't open and he landed in a Knoxville, Tennessee, driveway.
The Washington Post's death notice at the time said that Thornton was wearing night vision goggles and a bulletproof vest. He also had $4,500 in cash, two guns, and the keys to the plane that had crashed several hours earlier in the mountains of North Carolina. Investigators followed Thornton's plane's flight path and found nine duffel bags full of cocaine.
But the bear beat them to the 10th place. Three months after Thornton died, the dead bear was found in the Chattahoochee National Forest, which is south of the state line between Tennessee and Georgia.
Even though the bear is based on a real person, all of the people in the movie are made up, including the roles played by Keri Russell, Alden Ehrenreich, and the late Ray Liotta.
But Banks told news outlets that it was important for her movie to have characters that people could relate to and feel like they could be real people.
“Because I'm an actor first, I fell in love with all of these character journeys,” she said. “These were real, down-to-earth people who dealt with things like wanting to be closer to their daughters or going through a divorce.
“Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) just wants a dog to love, but he has no one, so he finds a dog that only he can love. And Alden Ehrenreich's character Eddie is sad about his wife's death and trying to figure out how to talk to his son about it. I loved that about the movie, and that's what spoke to me.”