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A smuggler that fell from the sky in Knoxville and a bear that found his drugs — The story of 'Cocaine Bear' has come to theaters

The story, which is based on true events that happened in Knoxville, is taking some liberties with the idea of a bear high on cocaine, making it a horror/comedy.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The real story of how a Georgia black bear ended up eating a drug smuggler's abandoned cocaine months after he fell from the sky and died in Knoxville is something that sounded like it came out of a movie. 

On Feb. 24, that story finally came to theaters, albeit with the added twist of turning the poor bear into a cocaine-fueled monster out for blood.

Universal Pictures released the trailer for the movie in December, and Knoxville got a brief mention! Viewers be warned -- this trailer is not rated PG. There is plenty of bad language and gruesome violence in this one:

"Cocaine Bear" was released in theaters on February 24, 2023. It stars Elizabeth Banks and features one of the final performances from actor Ray Liotta, who died in May.

Even though the story is based on true events, it's a massive understatement to say the movie is taking liberties with the premise of a bear that consumed a ton of cocaine. Unlike the movie, the real "Cocaine Bear" did not go on a murderous rampage in the hills of Georgia -- it simply died of an overdose.

However, the story behind how a 175-pound Georgia black bear managed to get its paws on the cocaine seems to be faithful to a real-life event that happened here in Knoxville, Tennessee.

RELATED: The cocaine in the yard, the dead smuggler, the drugged bear—and now a movie based on a Knoxville true crime story

On Sept. 11, 1985, a South Knoxville man named Fred Meyers spotted a few things utterly out of the ordinary from his window: a dead body, a parachute and several kilos of cocaine.

"Oh yes, I'm telling you. He was dead," the 85-year-old Meyers told reporters, perhaps stating the obvious given the askew limbs sticking out from under a sheet in his backyard.

The Knoxville Police Department arrived and quickly identified the dead man as 40-year-old Andrew Thornton. 

Thornton was a convicted drug smuggler from a Kentucky ring known as "The Company" and had just finished plummeting from the sky after jumping out of a Cessna with 34 kilos of uncut cocaine marked "USA," which would be worth nearly $40 million today. His intended landing zone was near Island Home Airport, but Thornton got tied up in his parachute and met his end in Meyers' yard.

What happened after is even more unbelievable. A few months later, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said it found a black bear in the mountains of North Georgia in the Chattahoochee National Forest that died from a drug overdose, claiming the bear had gotten into a batch of cocaine dropped out of Thornton's plane. The New York Times reported on the incident in its Dec. 23, 1985 edition, using the term "apparently" several times in the short article. 

It gets even weirder. After the incident, the bear was reportedly stuffed and sold to country music hall-of-famer Waylon Jennings. The taxidermied bear traded hands to one of Jennings' friends and later ended up in a pawn shop in Kentucky after the friend died.

A store in Lexington called KY for KY bought the bear roughly seven years ago and now has it on display, calling it "Pablo Escobear."

"They just wanted to get rid of it. They were over it," fo-founder Whit Hyler told WLEX. No one is disinterested now, he reported: "Just like the bourbon, we have people coming from all over the world just to see this famous cocaine bear."

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