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Cocaine Bear pouncing to big screens amid questions

THE Cocaine Bear is on display at the Kentucky for Kentucky store on Bryan Avenue in Lexington
Samantha Lederman
THE Cocaine Bear is on display at the Kentucky for Kentucky store on Bryan Avenue in Lexington

Controversy continues to swirl around a certain taxidermied bear on display at a local Kentucky-themed gift shop. The Hollywoodized exploits of the cocaine bear cited in a 1985 New York Times article and subsequent best-selling book Blue Grass Conspiracy will hit the big screen this weekend but increased media scrutiny is calling into question whether the stuffed animal in a booth at Kentucky for Kentucky is the genuine article.

Controversy continues to swirl about the truth of the bear and everything that happened leading up to its discovery in the Georgia woods in 1985.

Several reports suggest that the film Cocaine Bear is an exaggerated version of the folk tale that was once told. The 1985 Cocaine and a Dead Bear story by The New York Times and the trailer for the "Cocaine and Bear" movie lacks consistency. The original New York Times article said that “a 175-pound black bear apparently died of an overdose of cocaine after discovering a batch of the drug, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said today.” The newspaper said the bear had been found several days before in northern Georgia “among 40 opened plastic containers with traces of cocaine.”

The Herald Leader has begun verifying the history of the bear and diving into how the bear got the cocaine. Their report cited the New York Times's original article that stated “apparently the drugs dropped from a plane by convicted drug smuggler Andrew Thornton II, “because he was carrying too heavy a load while parachuting.” It was also reported that Thornton was a former Lexington narcotics officer turned drug smuggler who died when his parachute failed to open over Knoxville, Tenn., on Sept. 11, 1985.

Back in November WUKY’s very own Samantha Lederman spoke with Toni Cannon, the director of operations at the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall on Bryan Avenue. The Cocaine Bear, also fondly known as Pablo Eskobear, has been at the store for about 7 years.

Melinda Spaulding, who has worked at the store since August 2021 says she was not at all surprised by all the hype that the bear has been getting and says people like to come and take selfies with the bear, buy merchandise, and read up on more of his history.

Kentucky for Kentucky had to jump through a myriad of hoops before they found Pablo Eskobear, but they’re certain he’s the real deal.

The store had plans to collaborate with the movie producers on merch, but that all changed.

In a report by the Herald Leader early this week Kentucky for Kentucky described in its news release as being “suckerpunched.” after Universal Pictures announced plans for the “Cocaine Bear” movie.

Kentucky for Kentucky stated in their release “with the longstanding history as the originators of the Cocaine Bear character, everybody assumed that we were involved, but we hadn’t been consulted.”

Kentucky for Kentucky did not say how much it received from Universal, though it did say “the words ‘Cocaine Bear’ have proven their worth. However, Kentucky for Kentucky says it’s focusing on finding several brands, licensees, and other partners that want to get in on the action, of expanding the Cocaine Bear universe in a BIG way,” the company stated in the news release.