Movies

The Rundown: The True Story Behind The ‘Cocaine Bear’ Movie Is Even More Wild Than The Title

The Rundown is a weekly column that highlights some of the biggest, weirdest, and most notable events of the week in entertainment. The number of items could vary, as could the subject matter. It will not always make a ton of sense. Some items might not even be about entertainment, to be honest, or from this week. The important thing is that it’s Friday, and we are here to have some fun.

ITEM NUMBER ONE — I would like to talk about the cocaine bear

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you sit around all day minding your business — drinking iced tea, watching action movies on mute while you work, wearing one of the multiple Beastie Boys shirts you own — and then, suddenly, as if dropped from the heavens, a piece of news will appear and alter your entire day. Maybe it happened to you this week. Maybe it happened on Tuesday when you, like me, discovered that Elizabeth Banks is now attached to direct a movie titled — and I need you to prepare yourself for this if you did not see the news or read the headline of this column — Cocaine Bear.

Cocaine Bear.

The movie is called Cocaine Bear.

It’s about a bear that eats a bunch of cocaine.

Here, look.

The true story, as reported in 1985 by The New York Times, was that a 175-pound black bear consumed the contents of a duffle bag filled with more than 70 pounds of cocaine that was dropped from an airplane by a local drug smuggler, Andrew Thornton. The bear was later found dead of an apparent drug overdose.

The last sentence of that paragraph is a bummer. I know that. But I needed to include it for historical accuracy. And to bring your attention to the thing where it said the bear that consumed 40 percent of its body weight in cocaine that was dropped out of an airplane died of an “apparent” drug overdose. Really covering all our bases there. Like, yes, it could have been the 70 pounds of cocaine, but could it have also been… murder?

(It was probably the cocaine.)

But this, and I realize how crazy this is going to sound after multiple paragraphs about a movie titled Cocaine Bear and a bear eating 70 pounds of cocaine, is where it all gets really wild. Note the human name in there: Andrew Thornton. It turns out Andrew Thornton was an interesting guy. Not so much interesting in a “refurbished old cars and raced them on the weekends” way. Interesting in a “he was the child of wealthy thoroughbred owners who went on to become a military paratrooper and then a police officer and then a lawyer and then, as we already knew, a prominent Kentucky drug smuggler.” There are lots of ways to be interesting, is my point.

And guess what: Turns out 70 pounds of cocaine wasn’t the only thing that fell out of that plane. Andrew Thornton fell out of the plane, too. And his parachute didn’t open. And he landed in someone’s driveway. And, as you will discover if you poke around a bit and stumble across a Los Angeles Times article about it all from 1985, the authorities were not entirely displeased to hear about any of it.

“I’m glad his parachute didn’t open. I hope he got a hell of a high out of that (cocaine),” said Brian Leighton, an assistant U.S. attorney in Fresno, Calif. He once prosecuted Thornton on a marijuana trafficking charge.

The body of Thornton, 40, a native of Paris, Ky., was found Wednesday on a driveway in Knoxville, Tenn. He was heavily armed, carried 77 pounds of cocaine in an Army duffel bag, and was attached to a parachute that had failed to open.

And he wasn’t just some traffic cop who did a little weekend skydiving after his stint in the military. Like I said, Andrew Thornton was interesting.

“He was an expert skydiver and the type of guy who wouldn’t even let anyone touch his pack. He was a fanatic” about his equipment, said a friend in Lexington.

He joined the Lexington police in 1968 and stayed for nine years. In 1981, the Lexington Herald quoted sources as saying Thornton had set up the department’s intelligence squad.

Now, again, maybe you’re like me. Maybe you read all these words I’ve typed and/or pasted into this box and you started thinking. And maybe after a little bit of thinking, you realized it all sounded familiar. And maybe, if you’re really like me, you slapped yourself on the forehead and shouted “THIS IS THE SAME STORY FROM THE DREW THOMPSON PART OF THE FOURTH SEASON OF JUSTIFIED, WHICH ALSO OPENED WITH A DRUG SMUGGLER FALLING OUT OF AN AIRPLANE WITH A BACKPACK FULL OF COCAINE AND LANDING IN SOMEONE’S DRIVEWAY.” Well, guess what: we’re both right. It is the same story that inspired the fourth season of Justified. It was written up in a book called The Bluegrass Conspiracy. I am going to read this book. And then I am going to watch Cocaine Bear.

This connection made me so happy when I realized it. Sometimes you can look into a cool story and research the fun right out of it. This one just kept getting better all the way through, right up to and including the thing where the movie with the title that stopped me dead in my tracks and one of my favorite seasons of my favorite shows stemmed from the same story about a crooked cop/lawyer who fell to his death while carrying enough cocaine to kill a bear. Literally. Wait, no. I’m sorry, “apparently.” Enough cocaine to “apparently” kill a bear.

Although, now that I type all this out, I guess I am kind of bummed that Justified cut the part of the story about the bear. I think I would have enjoyed seeing, oh, let’s say Dewey Crowe coming face-to-face with a speed-addled bear in the Kentucky wilderness. Dammit. Now I did the thing I said I didn’t do. I went and made myself upset by thinking too hard about a fun story. I suppose the only solution here is for Elizabeth Banks to cast Damon Herriman as a simple hillbilly with a bunch of tattoos and an above-ground pool. I think that would help.

ITEM NUMBER TWO — What is any of this?

I do not watch The Masked Singer. I say this not to cast judgment on anyone who does, in part because you should watch whatever makes you happy and in part because Lord in heaven knows I have watched enough hours of empty-calorie television to make my judgment on other people’s viewing habits beyond irrelevant. A few weeks ago I led this entire column with a section about a dog driving a car on 9-1-1. It’s crazy that I have a job where people let me recommend anything to anyone. No, the reason I say that I do not watch The Masked Singer is so you will understand that the first notion I had of the reveal in the above video was seeing this image all over the internet on Thursday morning.

FOX

This, to be very clear, is Kermit the Frog emerging from a giant snail costume on an episode of The Masked Singer. Kermit the Frog was hidden inside a huge fake singing snail, on a network television show, and he just popped himself right out of it, also on network television, in front of millions of viewers and God and Ken Jeong and Jenny McCarthy. Read that sentence a few times. Really let it sink in. I am an unapologetic Muppets fan and am therefore perfectly comfortable with chaotic Muppet behavior, but even I have to admit that this is… weird. Imagine showing that picture to someone who doesn’t understand the Muppets or The Masked Singer and explaining that millions of people watch that show on television. It’s weird!

And it gets a little weirder. Kermit did multiple interviews with multiple outlets about his appearance on the show. Here’s an excerpt from his chat with People:

Why did you pick the Snail costume? Were you ever tempted to eat the costume since some frogs eat snails?

I picked a snail because snails and frogs have a lot in common; we’re both menu items at French restaurants. As for eating the costume, I wasn’t tempted. The only Muppet who eats his wardrobe is Animal.

Is Miss Piggy jealous that you were picked to go on the show? Did she know you were under the Snail costume?

Miss Piggy did not guess I was the Snail. Snails eat geraniums, and she knows I’m allergic, so that threw her off the trail. And surprisingly, she was not jealous of my being on the show. Piggy loves the spotlight. If she’s going on TV, she’s not going to hide behind a mask; she wants everyone to know it’s her the first fabulous minute she steps on stage.

Incredible. Just perfect in every way. Except maybe for the part where Kermit kind of implies that Miss Piggy is an anti-masker. Which, be honest, you could see. But the larger issue here is that if Kermit was one of the contestants on this show, then, like… who else is in those suckers? I’m legitimately curious now. Not curious enough to watch an episode of The Masked Singer, but curious enough to spend five minutes trying to think of the funniest possible person who could pop out of one of those costumes.

The best answer I’ve come up with so far is Tommy Lee Jones. It’s a fun game.

ITEM NUMBER THREE — You know that thing where you’re reading something and come across a passage and think, “Hmm, I bet I’ll remember this for the rest of my life”?

Marvel

Liam Gallagher did a Reddit AMA a while back where he claimed to own 2,000 tambourines. I have mentioned this before and I will probably mention it again for the simple reason that it is always clanging around my brain, trapped, unable to escape. I think about it a lot. Too often. I think about it every time I see Liam Gallagher. Like, he’ll pop up in a news story or he’ll tweet something wild — as Liam Gallagher will do — and I’ll immediately jump to “that dude owns 2,000 tambourines.” It is so many tambourines. I want to know more. I want to know how he stores them. I picture like an expensive wine cellar but just with racks and racks of tambourines. I was not joking when I say I think about it a lot.

I bring it up again today both because it has been almost a month since I told someone Liam Gallagher owns 2,000 tambourines and because a new fact entered my brain with no sign of leaving soon. From a New York Times interview with WandaVision scene-stealer Katherine Hahn.

Before you made “WandaVision” did you have a burning desire to make a big-budget superhero project?

Oh, for sure. There was something about being thrust into the air, about fighting in the sky and working with wires. I had a very small part in “Tomorrowland” and Keegan-Michael Key and I spent a lot of time with stunts. I have such reverence and respect for that world. I actually did trapeze for a little bit as a hobby. Which went nowhere fast.

When was that?

That was when we first came out to L.A. We found a trapeze school. I just screamed the whole time — right off the bat, you just have to leap. But it was so fun. So there was something that I loved about the idea of someone with superpowers in plain sight and the metaphor of using your powers for good.

Did you see it in that blockquote? Did you see the thing where Kathryn Hahn picked up trapeze as a hobby? As a hobby?! This is fascinating to me. I do not know anyone who has ever done trapeze. It had not even dawned on me that one could just pick it up, casually. In my mind, prior to reading this, there were two kinds of people in the world: professional trapeze artists and people who had never done trapeze at all. This changes everything. Anyone could do trapeze now. Kathryn Hahn did it. She probably told someone, at some point, that she couldn’t come to lunch because she was doing trapeze that afternoon. Let that one marinate for a bit.

But not for too long, because I have another fact to share. For reasons that involved a lot of clicking and free time, I ended up reading an old New Yorker article about ketchup this weekend. And in that article, I read this.

In the cities where the ads ran, sales of Grey Poupon leaped forty to fifty per cent, and whenever Heublein bought airtime in new cities sales jumped by forty to fifty per cent again. Grocery stores put Grey Poupon next to French’s and Gulden’s. By the end of the nineteen-eighties Grey Poupon was the most powerful brand in mustard. “The tagline in the commercial was that this was one of life’s finer pleasures,” Larry Elegant, who wrote the original Grey Poupon spot, says, “and that, along with the Rolls-Royce, seemed to impart to people’s minds that this was something truly different and superior.”

Liam Gallagher owns 2,000 tambourines.

Kathryn Hahn used to do trapeze as a hobby.

The famous Grey Poupon commercial was created by a man named Larry Elegant.

I suspect I am taking all of these to the grave with me.

ITEM NUMBER FOUR — Hey Brian, are you interested in a four-part docuseries about the Gardner Museum art heist?

Yes. Yes, I am.

I came very close to ending this section after those two sentences, but I can’t help myself. I love talking about the Gardner Museum heist. I’ve read dozens of articles about it. I listened to a multi-part podcast series about it. These dudes walked out of an art museum with half a billion dollars worth of paintings and the crime was never solved. Google it this weekend. Google it today. Finish reading all the way to the bottom of this article and then Google it immediately. You’ll find all sorts of wild information. Like, for example, this.

No one has ever been charged in connection with the brazen theft, carried out just after midnight on March 18, 1990. Two thieves gained entry to the museum by posing as police officers and left after 81 minutes with the 13 objects.

The statute of limitations on the theft ran out in 1995. Still, the F.B.I. and federal prosecutors have joined the museum in what they say is an active, ongoing investigation.

The F.B.I. announced in 2013 that it knew the identities of the Gardner thieves but did not reveal their names, and later said they were dead. The bureau said they belonged to a criminal organization based in New England and the Mid-Atlantic and that it had traced the paintings to Connecticut and Philadelphia, but those trails had grown cold.

There is no limit to the amount of information I could consume about this. A four-part docuseries is a decent place to start, or, I suppose, if we’re being accurate about it all, a decent place to continue. But I will not rest until someone makes a very Boston-centric movie about this crime that stars multiple Wahlbergs and multiple Afflecks. Even extended members of the families who do not act. Call up uncles and cousins and everything. I am barely joking about this.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE — Love this guy

A24

Few things in the world of entertainment have brought me more joy in the last few weeks than interviews with 8-year-old Minari star Alan Kim. That dude rules. GQ got in touch with him this week for a little mini-interview companion piece to their profile of his Minari co-star, Steven Yeun, and you should read it all because it will make you happy, but you should especially read this part that I’m about to blockquote.

Now that you’re a famous actor, is there anything else you’re excited about?

In the upcoming movie I’m doing, I’m supposed to be walking home. And then I lock the door and I’m home alone. And then it says I order a pizza and watch TV!

That sounds very hard, ordering a pizza and watching TV.

I think if I need to do another take, I need to eat pizza all over again.

Please consider this your periodic reminder that kids are much smarter than adults. And that you should take advantage of any situation that allows you to eat free pizza. These are both important things to remember.

READER MAIL

If you have questions about television, movies, food, local news, weather, or whatever you want, shoot them to me on Twitter or at brian.grubb@uproxx.com (put “RUNDOWN” in the subject line). I am the first writer to ever answer reader mail in a column. Do not look up this last part.

From Eddie:

Do you ever wonder if a piece of writing on the internet will become as famous as actual printed books? It seems like that should happen at some point. If it does, what do you think it will be? Full disclosure: I ask this question because I’ve sent your “Every Actor Is Either A Batman Or A Joker” piece to everyone I know. Jason Sudeikis is a Batman, right?

Well, this is a lovely question, and I do not say that just because it contains a compliment. It’s actually two lovely questions, the second of which I will answer first; Yes, Jason Sudeikis is a Batman, but like a chill and well-adjusted Batman, not all dark and moody. Upbeat Batman. I kind of want to see this now. I need him to keep the Ted Lasso mustache. I want to see a mustachioed Batman.

To your other question, I… I don’t know. A lot of the best writing on the internet is republished in print somewhere or runs the risk of disappearing in a botched redesign. It’s strange. There’s not a big feeling of permanence to any of this, which is somehow both troubling and calming to someone like me who does all of his writing online. Weirdly, and maybe this is just the way my broken brain works, the things that stick with me most from the online era are tweets. I mean, look at this one…

… or this one…

… or this one…

… and tell me those aren’t creative works on par with at least some of the quote-unquote classics you read in high school. Go read the Shoe Roast again and tell me it’s not a better use of your time than re-reading The Catcher in the Rye. Do not lie to me. Do not lie.

But keep in mind, I’m also the person who thinks the complete collection of Calvin & Hobbes should be required reading for all students in grades 6-8. I would either be a very good or very, very bad teacher.

AND NOW, THE NEWS

To Washington!

A man is facing charges after he allegedly stole a 400-pound slide from a playground and mounted it on a bunkbed in his home.

Do…

Do we…

Do we have a SLIDE HEIST on our hands here?

I believe we do. We have our first-ever slide heist. And here’s my favorite part: the cop who broke the case wasn’t even looking for the slide. She was searching the house for something else. She solved a slide caper by accident.

Lee suddenly came face-to-face with the gigantic slide, which was reported stolen in December 2020, as she searched the home for catalytic converters.

CHIEF: How’d the search for the stolen catalytic converters go?

COP: … Good?

CHIEF: What does that mean? Did you find the stolen property or not?

COP: … I found some stolen property…

CHIEF: Dammit, spit it out. Was the search successful or not?

COP: [sound of partner shouting “wheeeee!” in the background as he goes down the slide] … Yes?

Bushnell sawed off the slide, repainted it, and mounted it on a bunkbed in a child’s bedroom at his mobile home, according to investigators.

You shouldn’t steal a slide from a playground. Let me say that just to cover myself in case one of you gets any ideas. I do not want that on my conscience. But if you do steal a slide from a playground, try to get at least one frazzled parent on the jury. They’ll hear all of this and take it all in and picture their own bored kids tearing up the house during various stages of quarantine and think, “Okay… I get it.”

Bang. Hung jury. Case closed.

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