Tiger King… the second bite! It was a lockdown TV sensation – the series about big cat owners that ended with a hitman drama and a long jail sentence. As it roars back, what does the woman Joe Exotic wanted dead have to say?
- The show’s first series became one of streaming giant Netflix’s biggest ever hits
- It was watched by 64 million households in its first month on Netflix, March 2020
- Animal rights group Peta says almost every big cat ‘abuser’ in the original series is now in custody, out of business or facing lawsuits or criminal charges
- Tiger King 2 will be on Netflix later this month and much of the cast is returning
One of its stars desperately wanted to be in it but is in prison, the other is so determined to stay out of it that she’s gone to court. As for the supporting cast of characters, well, many of them have returned and they’re as outlandish as ever. Tiger King is back and the surprising monster streaming hit of the pandemic promises to be just as deranged second time round.
Tiger King, alias Joe Exotic, suited those crazy times to a tee — a mullet-haired, assault rifle-brandishing, drug-abusing, gay polygamist, hillbilly showman. He ran an anarchic roadside zoo in Oklahoma full of lions and tigers, and was fighting a vicious battle with his nemesis, Florida big cats rights activist Carole Baskin.
She accused him of abusing the animals, illegally breeding them to supply his lucrative cub-petting business. He accused her of having killed her second husband and feeding him to her big cats.
The show rapidly became one of streaming giant Netflix’s biggest ever hits, watched by 64 million households in its first month, March 2020.
The eight-part series, titled Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem And Madness, managed to get odder and odder until what had seemed like a black comedy turned into something far darker when Exotic — real name Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage — was arrested for hiring two men to kill Ms Baskin.
Joe Exotic from the hit Netflix series Tiger King. The show rapidly became one of streaming giant Netflix’s biggest ever hits, watched by 64 million households in its first month, March 2020
His supporters claimed he was set up but he was later convicted of that offence as well as falsifying wildlife records and animal abuse — including shooting and killing five tigers — and sentenced to 22 years in prison. An appeal court ordered his sentence be reduced but Exotic this week revealed the intervention may be academic.
He has aggressive prostate cancer, he announced on social media, asking to be released from federal prison in Texas on compassionate grounds. He added: ‘Carole will have her own party over this!’
Tiger King 2, which is released on November 17, will revisit a disturbing but undeniably charismatic character who became such a celebrity that it even seemed at one stage that President Trump would make pardoning him one of his last acts in the White House after a Free Joe campaign received enough votes to reach his desk.
Covered in tattoos and piercings, Exotic had so many face lifts his sideburns now grow behind his ears. A heavy user of the drug crystal methamphetamine, he liked to sleep three to a bed with his much younger ‘husbands’ on either side of him and famously once walked into a local gay bar with a tiger on a leash.
As he headed for prison, Mrs Baskin, meanwhile, was given ownership of Exotic’s zoo by a federal judge shortly after the TV series came out as the settlement of a seven-year-old trademark dispute in which he was also ordered to pay her $1 million.
However, before that settlement could be enforced, Exotic managed to pass on the zoo’s big cats to a business partner, Jeff Lowe. His attempt to start a new private zoo with them was foiled when federal officials raided the site and seized the remaining 68 big cats following complaints that they were being treated inhumanely.
Picture shows the controversial star of the hit Netflix series with what appear to be wounds on his left arm. The attack is said to have happened at the Grady County jail in Oklahoma
Mrs Baskin, who runs a well-regarded big cats sanctuary in Florida, complained bitterly about the programme makers’ ‘false portrayal’ of her, unfairly suggesting she had murdered her second husband and making her look as trashy as pistol-packing Exotic with his garish leopard-print shirts and grim history of cruelty towards the animals he insisted he loved.
She accused the TV series of tarnishing her reputation as a serious animal conservationist but then didn’t help her case by appearing on Dancing With The Stars, America’s version of Strictly Come Dancing, where she danced to Eye Of The Tiger wearing her signature headpiece, a flower crown.
She also appeared this April in Louis Theroux’s documentary, Shooting Joe Exotic, for BBC2, a considered programme which was more sympathetic to her and more honest about Exotic’s dangerous personality. Netflix lawyers tried to ward Theroux off, saying they had many of the characters tied down to exclusive contracts.
The first Tiger King series hoovered up TV awards but was lambasted by conservationists and animal welfare groups for cynically glamorising Exotic and downplaying the cruelty of private zoos and owners who engage in illegal breeding and cub trafficking.
Netflix, which has a passion for lurid true-life stories, is keeping tight-lipped about the contents of the new series but has made clear in a wham-bam trailer that those looking for more jaw-dropping lunacy won’t be disappointed.
Mrs Baskin told the Mail this week that she doesn’t know what is in it about her but fears the worst. The activist, who announced she was bisexual a year ago, suspects the new series will again glamorise Exotic and gloss over animal cruelty in the quest for gripping drama. ‘They found something that worked and they made money off it so I would be inclined to believe they’ll have stuck with the same format,’ she said.
Mrs Baskin’s feud with Exotic started after she campaigned for shopping malls to ban his touring cub petting zoo. She says she agreed to take part in the original Tiger King because its makers assured her it would be a serious investigation into the exploitation of big cat cubs, and confirmed the film-makers approached her to appear in the second series. ‘They wanted to clear the air and I told them to lose my number. We didn’t have a discussion.’
She said that since Netflix put out the trailer for the new series, people had been posting one-star reviews of her big cat sanctuary near Tampa, Big Cat Rescue, and making ‘hateful comments’.
Carole Baskin told the Mail this week that she doesn’t know what is in it about her but fears the worst. The activist, who announced she was bisexual a year ago, suspects the new series will again glamorise Exotic and gloss over animal cruelty in the quest for gripping drama
She adds: ‘It was all the same stuff that happened last time. Just about everybody who calls is either screaming that I’m a murderer or saying that I’m no different to Joe, that I have tigers in cages … At least this time we won’t be blindsided.’
Asked if she believed it was the film-makers’ intention all along to demonise her, she said: ‘I don’t know what their intention was but they could have had a perfectly good series with crazy characters without villainising one person who was trying to end the abuse.’
But after discovering from the Tiger King 2 trailer that the directors were using footage of them left over from the first series, she and husband Howard Baskin sued Netflix and the producers for what they said was its ‘unauthorised’ use under their original deal.
While a judge rejected their demand for a restraining order on the new series, their legal action is far from over and inevitably has only added to the drama.
But the Baskins are not the only ones feeling hard done by. Although Joe Exotic has said he has no regrets about appearing in the original series, he continues to protest his innocence. The new trailer includes a selection of whining phone calls he made to Tiger King’s directors from prison.
He wails: ‘There’s an innocent man in prison.’ ‘If you give a damn, it’s time to speak up.’
The eight-part series, titled Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem And Madness, managed to get odder and odder
Mrs Baskin’s feud with Exotic started after she campaigned for shopping malls to ban his touring cub petting zoo. She says she agreed to take part in the original Tiger King because its makers assured her it would be a serious investigation into the exploitation of big cat cubs, and confirmed the film-makers approached her to appear in the second series
In another he moans: ‘Everybody from the zoo is making money and I’m paying the price for every one of them.’ However he also warns his rival big cat collectors: ‘We’ve gotta put our differences aside or we’re all going to die in here.’
It’s clear from the teaser for Tiger King 2 that at least four of his cronies have agreed to collaborate with the new series.
In a trailer that sometimes looks like the opening from Miami Vice, James Garretson, a chubby businessman who knew and worked with Exotic for 20 years before turning FBI informant and helping bring him down, is filmed riding around on a jet ski and standing on a boat dock with four under-dressed women fawning over him. ‘Tiger King changed our lives overnight,’ he tells the film.
‘We have more money than God,’ boasts Jeff Lowe, a Las Vegas playboy and another big cat collector to whom Exotic passed his zoo after he was convicted to stop Ms Baskin getting it.
Mr Lowe, who used to smuggle tiger cubs in a Louis Vuitton bag into Las Vegas casinos to help him chat up women, is back to his old tricks. In the trailer, he ogles dancers in a strip club and shows off a giant jewel encrusted neck chain with a tiger’s head and the words ‘Tiger King’.
In one scene he’s filmed shooting a rifle with a sketch of Joe as target, and in another Mr Lowe is getting on to a bed containing his wife Lauren and another woman, while Exotic complains: ‘Jeff and Lauren are like two rabid dogs in a goldfish bowl.’
Also returning is Allen Glover — Tiger King’s handy man until Exotic offered him $3,000 to cut off Mrs Baskin’s head only for him to tell the FBI — and Lowe’s former business partner Tim Stark.
Described by someone in the trailer as ‘bat**** crazy’ (though that hardly narrows it down), Mr Stark’s armed to the teeth and apparently so determined to stop officials taking his big cats from his Kentucky private zoo — misleadingly named Wildlife In Need — that he’s installed booby traps. ‘Nobody’s going to take my animals, it’s that simple,’ he snarls. ‘Come get me, mother******s.’
Tiger King, alias Joe Exotic, suited those crazy times to a tee — a mullet-haired, assault rifle-brandishing, drug-abusing, gay polygamist, hillbilly showman
The trailer doesn’t spare Mrs Baskin either. ‘What happened to Don Lewis?’ says a voiceover, referring to her missing ex-husband. ‘Carole knows something. He was dealing with some shady characters down in Costa Rica.’ Another man opines: ‘Don liked to play with dangerous stuff. They’ll kill you for that.’
Carole wouldn’t be drawn by the Mail on what the trailer might be referring to but she has previously claimed Mr Lewis, another big cat collector, was obsessed with sex and frequently flew to Costa Rica for affairs.
In July 1997, he filed unsuccessfully for a restraining order against her, claiming she’d threatened to kill him, although they continued to live together. He disappeared two months later.
Mr Lewis’s daughter claimed that her stepmother, knowing he was about to divorce her, killed him and used the sanctuary’s meat mincer to mush up his body before giving it to the cats. She has denied any involvement. ‘I couldn’t have run his hand through the grinder, much less his body,’ she said in the first Tiger King series.
However, the new trailer doesn’t tell the whole story. Many of the stars of the first series may soon be joining Exotic in prison. According to animal rights group Peta, almost every big cat ‘abuser’ in the original series is now in custody, out of business or facing lawsuits or criminal charges.
Mr Stark was arrested in April and has been accused of various animal cruelty offences including beating a leopard to death with a baseball bat.
In May, federal officials removed the remaining nearly 70 big cats from Tiger King Park, Jeff and Lauren Lowe’s successor to Exotic’s zoo. The authorities say the Lowes — who deny mistreating animals — had committed various animal welfare breaches.
Exotic ran an anarchic roadside zoo in Oklahoma full of lions and tigers, and was fighting a vicious battle with his nemesis, Florida big cats rights activist Carole Baskin (pictured, appearing on Dancing with the Stars
Although he criticised his portrayal in the first series and isn’t in the new trailer, it’s been reported that Kevin ‘Doc’ Antle, a big cat owner and supplier of animals to Hollywood films, will also be in Tiger King 2.
One of the first series’ stand-out oddities, he renamed himself Bhagavan, meaning ‘mystical lord’, and kept a harem of young interns who he gave new names and cosmetic surgery.
He, too, has since fallen foul of the law. In October 2020, he was charged with wildlife trafficking and other charges including cruelty to animals at his 100-animal roadside zoo in South Carolina. He insists he’s never been cruel to animals.
There’s clearly plenty of meat for the makers of Tiger King 2 to get their teeth into in their search for more grotesque people and preposterous plotlines. But Tiger King without the Tiger King will be a hard act to follow.
- Tiger King 2, Netflix, 17 November.
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