IT was the surprise hit of lockdown telly – and now Tiger King is roaring back to life with a second series.
The original Netflix documentary told the story of controversial zoo owner Joe Exotic and his bitter rivalry with self-styled cat conservationist Carole Baskin, 59.
Carole, who owns Big Cat Rescue in Florida, accused Exotic and other collectors like him of abusing and exploiting the wild animals they owned. Exotic, 57, claimed Carole murdered her first husband.
Throw in Exotic’s three-way gay marriage, an attempt to run for US President and a murder-for-hire plot, and it is not hard to see why viewers were gripped.
But what happened once the cameras stopped rolling? It has been an eventful two years for Joseph Maldonado–Passage, or Joe Exotic as his millions of fans know him.
He was arrested in September 2018 for hiring someone to kill Carole and 17 animal abuse charges relating to the G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park (GW Zoo), in Oklahoma.
He was sentenced to 22 years in Grady County Jail in January. Meanwhile, in another blow to Exotic, the GW Zoo, which was being run by his former business partner Jeff Lowe, has been awarded to Carole by a federal judge following an infringement lawsuit.
In June, Jeff was given 120 days to vacate the premises along with his animals. Mullet-haired inmate Exotic was recently released from solitary confinement and moved to Federal Medical Centre in Texas in response to Covid-19. He is suing for more than £70million in damages for wrongful imprisonment.
He is also hoping for a pardon from Donald Trump after the US President said during a White House press conference in April that he would “take a look” into his case.
In a letter to a pal in June, Exotic claimed he had been abused in prison. It read: “Let’s hope President Trump will . . . make this right and grant me a pardon. I have scars from the skin coming off of my arms from being strapped in a chair so tight just for demanding answers.”
I have scars from the skin coming off of my arms from being strapped in a chair so tight just for demanding answers.
His legal team drove a bus, emblazoned with “President Trump please pardon Joe Exotic”, to Washington DC in May in order to push their client’s case.
It will come as no surprise that Exotic is still trying to nail his nemesis Carole from his prison cell.
He has reportedly offered to help the family of Don Lewis, her ex-husband, in solving his 1997 disappearance. Exotic maintains Carole fed the millionaire to tigers. She has denied the claims.
Last week Don’s family offered a £76,000 reward in exchange for information on his whereabouts, and their lawyer announced a renewed investigation into the case.
Carole, it seems, is never far from controversy. This month she picked a catfight with rappers Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion over their music video for hit single WAP, featuring tigers and leopards in a mansion.
The activist said the video, starring Kylie Jenner, makes “every ignorant follower want to imitate by doing the same”.
She has also been using her new-found fame to cash in. Carole signed up to personalised message site Cameo, charging £140 a pop for a 30-second video to wish fans a happy birthday or anniversary. She made £16,000 on her first day.
But Carole fell foul of pranksters, who tricked her into recording tributes to paedos Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile.
Here we look at what some of the show’s other colourful characters have been up to — and the unanswered questions season two may visit
Questions that need answers
- Will there be new bombshells about Carole Baskin’s missing ex-husband? One of the most jaw-dropping claims of the first series was that Carole might have had something to do with the disappearance of Don Lewis. She has consistently denied having any involvement, but there is talk of reinvestigating the millionaire’s disappearance. Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister spoke to The Sun in April after Don’s case was re-examined, and said: “As a 28-year law enforcement official, I certainly believe that he was murdered. But how and where is the missing piece that we need to solve this case.”
- What’s happened to Joe’s zoo after Carole got the keys? In a bombshell ruling in June, Carole was granted control of GW Zoo, in Oklahoma. The park, which has been renamed the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, was forced to close as a non-essential business when the pandemic hit. But its problems continued, even after its closure. In June it was found to be containing animals not receiving adequate care during a US Department of Agriculture inspection in June, according to animal rights group PETA. It says footage from the inspection shows big cat carcasses left outside to decompose, a sick lion cub and an emaciated grizzly bear.
- Is Doc Antle’s mysterious “cult” still going strong? One of the strangest storylines in the first series concerned Doc and his eyebrow-raising relationships with the attractive women in his employ. One former apprentice in the show, Barbara Fisher, said she was even pressured into getting a boob job while working at Doc’s zoo, The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.), at Myrtle Beach Safari. Joe initially called Doc a “mentor” in the animal industry but Barbara painted a darker picture of his organisation, which some have likened to a cult, in which staff worked gruelling hours in terrible conditions. Barbara claims there were unsettling sexual relationships between the owner and his staff. He never made an ultimatum like, ‘You must sleep with me or else you’re not going to get these perks’ or anything like that, but he definitely was sleeping with many people that had started out as apprentices.” Doc has denied the claims and said most of the women featured in the show are girlfriends to his son, who works at the park, and grandchildren.
- Who will win the fight between big cat owners and campaigners? Carole claims she signed up to be in Tiger King because it was pitched to her as a “big cat version of Blackfish”, the 2013 documentary which exposed the abuse of captive killer whales at the SeaWorld attraction, in Orlando, Florida. Tiger King producers have refuted Carole’s description of the pitch. But critics of Tiger King said the welfare of the animals was a secondary concern of the series, rather than the focus. The big cat industry in the US is enormous, with more tigers living in captivity in private homes, gardens and zoos than there are specimens left in the wild. A proposed law, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, would make it illegal for private individuals to own tigers, leopards, lions and other big cats. It would also outlaw commercial use of cats such as the photo ops depicted in the documentary. But the bill is yet to be passed into law and animal rights groups say the abuse of big cats continues.
EXOTIC’s husband Dillon Passage has vowed to stand by his jailed partner’s side despite his lengthy sentence.
The 24-year-old said: “It’s kind of my normal life now. It’s a little bit weird to say, but I’ve kind of gotten used to our situation.
“The only thing that’s keeping us going is really just hoping for the best. And these lawyers seem like they have a really good plan to get things executed.”
But the truth is the pair have little contact. Dillon added: “I’m not really able to speak to him very often. He just doesn’t have a lot of phone privileges.”
Dillon has been enjoying the limelight and was pictured in May partying on a yacht in LA with a fellow Netflix star, Too Hot To Handle’s Bryce Hirschberg.
He has said: “People keep calling me a celebrity. I just found there’s a Dillon Passage fan page on Instagram.”
In a letter from prison, Exotic says he has been abandoned. He said: “I don’t even know if I’m married any more, seems everyone is so busy making money and being famous.
“I don’t get even a letter from Dillon. Everyone sends pictures of him having fun and all but as a person screaming for help, I am asking you to stop.”
The business partner
HAVING been ordered by a federal judge to vacate GW Zoo and hand over the keys to rival Carole, Exotic’s former business partner Jeff Lowe plans to launch his own spin- off series.
Jeff, 55, whose glamorous younger wife Lauren also appeared on the show, revealed: “It’ll be our narrative on the Tiger King with evidence to support our sides of the stories.
“And it will be about the transfer of all these beautiful animals from Joe’s facility to the new facility then the day-to-day struggle of running a 60-acre animal park and fighting animal rights groups.”
PETA claimed in June that Jeff has been accused of animal neglect by US authorities after a burned tiger carcass and a sick cub in need of veterinary care were found at the park. He also has four outstanding warrants for his arrest in Las Vegas, dating back to 2017, for possessing exotic animals and operating a business without a licence.
Jeff’s battle with PETA heated up last month when he sued the organisation over its “Joe Exotic Tiger Killer” Halloween costume. He claims he owns the rights to Tiger King and wants it pulled or to strike a deal.
The toothless ex
THE Tiger King’s toothless and shirtless ex-husband John Finlay, 36, became an unlikely pin-up after he had his smile fixed following the show.
He is now engaged to Stormey Sanders, the zoo worker he left Exotic for, has quit drugs and works as a welder in Oklahoma.
John has hit out at how he was portrayed in the series, saying: “The producer kind of made me feel like I was the sex appeal of the show. Whenever he would talk to me on the phone or in person he would say, ‘Bring you and your sexy body with you’.
“It made me feel comfortable being shirtless around him. But I did quite a few interviews where I had my shirt on, and for some unknown reason they didn’t show that. How they portrayed me was all a big surprise.”
The park owner mentor
BHAGAVAN “Doc” Antle, 60, may need some convincing to return after calling the show a “train wreck”.
Exotic had described Doc as his inspiration for opening an animal park, before accusing him of euthanising cubs.
Doc denies the claims, and said: “This is not a documentary. It is a salacious, outrageous . . . train wreck of a story between the feud of Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic.”
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Since the show, fans unearthed images of Doc on stage next to Britney Spears at the MTV VMAs in 2001, where he was handling a tiger.
His Myrtle Beach Safari, in South Carolina, was raided by authorities last year but Doc denied it had anything to do with the Netflix series.
It remains open despite claims from PETA that he has a “rap sheet of federal Animal Welfare Act violations”.
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