CONFIRMED: ‘Cocaine Bear’ at KY for KY & Origin Story Fictionalized

via Kentucky for Kentucky

Story Highlights:

  • The taxidermied bear on display at the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington, Kentucky known as the “Cocaine Bear” is NOT the actual bear that died in the drug smuggling saga known commonly as “The Bluegrass Conspiracy.”
  • The origin story of how Kentucky for Kentucky obtained the “Cocaine Bear” including the involvement of Waylon Jennings was fictionalized.
  • Kentucky for Kentucky does own the trademark on “Cocaine Bear” and Universal Pictures had to license the name from Kentucky for Kentucky for the recently-released movie.
  • Kentucky for Kentucky can claim they own the real “Cocaine Bear,” but their bear was not the one that died in Georgia due to ingesting cocaine.

Unless you’ve been living on a different planet, you’re probably aware of the movie released on Friday, February 24th called Cocaine Bear about a booger sugar-loving bear that terrorizes people in the woods. The movie is extremely fictionalized, but the “Cocaine Bear” actually did exist, and was tied to a criminal enterprise known as The Bluegrass Conspiracy that involved a drug smuggler named Andrew Thornton who threw a load of cocaine out of a private plane before parachuting to his death.

But with the new movie and all the buzz around it (the film grossed $23 million on the opening weekend), the origin story of what a local business in Lexington, Kentucky called “Kentucky for Kentucky” claimed was the actual Cocaine Bear came under heavy scrutiny, with some saying the origin story of how the bear was obtained was not true, and the bear itself was not the right bear.

After spending the better part of two years trying to get to the bottom of the Cocaine Bear and the origin story behind it, Saving Country Music can confirm that despite Kentucky for Kentucky LLC owning the trademark “Cocaine Bear,” and Universal Pictures licensing that trademark from the company for the movie, the actual taxidermied bear located at the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall at 720 Bryan Ave in Lexington, KY is indeed not the actual bear that died from ingesting cocaine as part of the Bluegrass Conspiracy story.

This also means that the information published on the Kentucky for Kentucky website on August 19th, 2015 that has made it into literally thousands of news articles and features as the origin story of the Cocaine Bear is also fictionalized, including the idea that Waylon Jennings once briefly owned the Cocaine Bear.

A statement from Kentucky For Kentucky owner Griffin Van Meter received by Saving Country Music late Monday afternoon (2-27) reads,

Based in Lexington, KY. Kentucky For Kentucky LLC is an award-winning creative agency and community-focused business making significant cultural hits since 2011.

Cocaine Bear® is a registered trademark of Kentucky for Kentucky, LLC. We licensed the “Cocaine Bear” name to Universal Pictures.

Without Kentucky for Kentucky’s initial creativity, there is no Cocaine Bear® movie. We are the Big Bang of the Cocaine Bear® Universe, fundamental to its galactic expansion. Fun Fact: The words Cocaine and Bear had never been combined before we did it.

We begot, named, and raised the character Cocaine Bear® beginning in 2015. We’re proud parents! If the media, fans, and the movie are Cocaine Bear®’s apostles and gospellers, we’re Cocaine Bear’s Joseph, Mary, and Holy Spirit. Cocaine Bear® is a beloved character—our collective savior.

We’re pumped that amazing Hollywood creatives recognized our already-on-blast Cocaine Bear® and added rocket fuel to the rocket ship for the world’s collective enjoyment. Like everyone, we love the Cocaine Bear Movie. Cheers!

Our taxidermy bear is 100% Cocaine Bear®.

If you’re questioning whether our taxidermy bear is the exact one that overdosed, you have options regarding our Cocaine Bear:

1. If disbelief is your choice, then we created the most fantastic story ever. A story that carried it through hundreds of articles, podcasts, and memes that grew into a legend that lived in the public’s wildest dreams and fantasies. Our Cocaine Bear® has become a pilgrimage for thousands of worshipers worldwide. A story with a character so alluring, Cocaine Bear was made into a highly anticipated Universal Pictures Film.

2. If belief is your adventure, welcome to our beautiful Cocaine Bear® world. We love having you here.

3. Or choose both and enjoy this rip-roaring collective cultural moment!

When pressing Griffin Van Meter further to confirm that the taxidermied bear in their possession is not the actual bear from The Bluegrass Conspiracy and that the origin story was fiction, Van Meter responded, “We’re a creative content agency, not a news source. For context, we sell Expoy Horse Turds from Derby Winner Silver Charm. But due to our creativity, our Cocaine Bear has become real. Like a superhero’s origin story.”

In other words, it’s entirely fiction, which means accounts written in just about every single major news institution in the English speaking world—along with tens of thousands of tourists who had their pictures taken with the Cocaine Bear—have been duped by a “creative content agency.”

Saving Country Music first profiled how Kentucky for Kentucky claimed they obtained the Cocaine Bear in an episode of the Country History X Podcast released on May 11th, 2021 called “Waylon Jennings and the Cocaine Bear.” But this was not the first telling of this story. The story of the Cocaine Bear at Kentucky for Kentucky had been recounted countless times well before in places like The New York Times and Rolling Stone to name a few. It originally came from an article posted by a copywriter named Coleman Larkin on August 19th, 2015 on the Kentucky for Kentucky website.

Long story short, Kentucky for Kentucky claimed they traced the Cocaine Bear from the Bluegrass Conspiracy cocaine incident, to a taxidermist, then to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area Visitor’s Center in Georgia, to a storage unit, a pawn shop in Nashville, then to Waylon Jennings, then off to Las Vegas and high roller Ron Thompson, then to an Asian medicine and herb shop in Reno, and then finally to the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington, where it was first put on display in 2015.

When composing the Country History X episode, a call was placed to Kentucky for Kentucky to authenticate the story, which the company was more than willing to do. An email was also sent to writer Coleman Larkin at the time to see if the court documents that they claim corroborate that Waylon Jennings owned the bear for a brief stint could be obtained. That request went unanswered.

With the release of the Cocaine Bear movie, the Kentucky for Kentucky claims have made it into upwards of 1,000-plus articles. As these articles began to circulate, criticisms started rolling in from the camp of Waylon’s son Shooter Jennings, claiming the connection of Waylon Jennings to the Cocaine Bear was false. People claiming they knew Waylon personally, were friends with him for years, played in his band, etc., also came forward to say they never heard about the Cocaine Bear.

But since the claim from Kentucky for Kentucky was that Waylon Jennings only owned the Cocaine Bear for a very short time before shipping it to Ron Johnson in Las Vegas, it was plausible that Waylon Jennings could have owned it, but nobody else knew about it. So even though these claims from the Waylon Jennings estate raised suspicions, they were not the smoking gun to claim that Kentucky for Kentucky had fabricated their story.

On February 23rd during the release of the Cocaine Bear movie, Shooter Jennings took to social media to say, “Endless reporters have wasted our time over and over asking us if Waylon really owned the damn Cocaine Bear. He just plain never did. He never owned a home in Las Vegas either, but somehow ‘trusted sources’ all over continue to spread the fake news. So consider this your fucking fact check…. The movie does look like a great time…”

For the record, none of the claims from Kentucky for Kentucky, Saving Country Music, or the vast majority of the news reports in major news publications on the Cocaine Bear claimed that Waylon Jennings lived in Las Vegas. But the primary reason these “endless reporters” were reaching out to Shooter Jennings for information about the Cocaine Bear is because they wanted to get the story right. They didn’t want to “spread the fake news.” Though it’s completely understandable that all the inquiries to Shooter were a nuisance, this was reporters doing their jobs by trying to confirm the source information.

One of the reasons that so many reporters reached out to Shooter Jennings to attempt to corroborate or refute the Cocaine Bear story is because for going on two years, Kentucky for Kentucky flatly refused to communicate with the outside world, let alone produce evidence corroborating their claims.

Shortly after Saving Country Music posted its Country History X podcast in May of 2021, both Kentucky for Kentucky and the writer of the Cocaine Bear origin story, Coleman Larkin, were contacted again, and followed up with numerous days later to attempt to obtain authenticating documentation on the Cocaine Bear, and/or Waylon’s possession of it. They never responded.

With the Cocaine Bear movie release, now dozens of reputable media outlets have reached out to Kentucky for Kentucky looking for further information or confirmation, all of which heretofore were ignored, or at least, not responded to. “We reached out to Kentucky for Kentucky for comment, but they didn’t respond” has been a common refrain throughout the reporting.

The release of the Cocaine Bear movie has undoubtedly been a boon for the Kentucky for Kentucky business, which sells T-shirts and souvenirs branded with the Cocaine Bear. It is what the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington is best known for. But it eventually brought down such heavy scrutiny on their story, they were forced to respond.

Though virtually all the news stories on the Cocaine Bear either sourced their information from other media sources in the endless echo chamber, or from the fictionalized information from Kentucky for Kentucky, Natalia Martinez at Channel 3 WAVE in Louisville, Kentucky has been diving deep into the matter, so deep in fact that the NBC affiliate is saying they have a documentary on the way about Andrew Thornton (the original drug smuggler), and the Cocaine Bear.

The WAVE story posted on December 19th, 2022 reports,

“No Pablo Escobear, I’m sorry,” one of the lead agents in the criminal case told us. “I feel bad for the bear.”

The official cause of death was cocaine ingestion, according to the medical examiner and government reports gathered exclusively by WAVE News. Contrary to the story told by KYforKY, the bear’s stomach was not packed with the drug. During the course of our investigation, the medical examiner told WAVE there was no stomach left at all by the time the bear was found.

“We had bones and a little bit of hide,” the medical examiner told us. “We had bones and used them to give us an idea of the height and weight the bear would have been.”

Obviously, the information in the WAVE story directly refutes Kentucky for Kentucky’s claim which says that it reached out to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and got in touch with the retired medical examiner who performed the The Cocaine Bear’s necropsy.

“Its stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine. There isn’t a mammal on the planet that could survive that. Cerebral hemorrhaging, respiratory failure, hyperthermia, renal failure, heart failure, stroke. You name it, that bear had it.”

Despite all that, the examiner said, the bear’s body remained in good cosmetic shape. Such good shape that he thought it would be a shame to just have it cremated. He contacted a hunting buddy who did taxidermy, had it stuffed and then gifted it to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, where it was displayed in the visitor center behind a plaque without mention of its party animal past.

Kentucky for Kentucky went on to claim that the way that the bear got from the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area Visitor’s Center to a pawn shop in Nashville was when an approaching fire required an evacuation of the Visitor’s Center, the contents were moved into a storage unit. When the storage unit was looted, the Cocaine Bear was taken along with other contents.

However, as one enterprising (and anonymous) Saving Country Music internet sleuth pointed out, “The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area visitor center, sounds remote but is actually Atlanta Metro- about 5 miles north of I-285. There were no evacuation-level wildfires anywhere near that area anywhere near that time. That would have been a huge story, except there’s no record of it because it didn’t actually happen, and I’ve talked to people who lived around there their whole life who confirmed that nothing like that ever happened. And also got reliable confirmation that the bear corpse was never actually displayed at the visitor center to begin with.”

In one final effort to make contact with the bear owner Whit Hiler of Kentucky for Kentucky and the writer for the origin story Coleman Larkin, Saving Country Music went through a different channel amid the movie release. On Friday, February 24th, Coleman Larkin finally responded.

“Sorry we’ve been tough to pin down. Lots of media requests as you can imagine. We’re working on an official press kit that will include notarized copies of official documents and other supporting materials that will more firmly establish Cocaine Bear’s provenance,”
Coleman Larkin told Saving Country Music in an email. He went on to say that all this information would be made available to Saving Country Music and the rest of the press as soon as they received a “signoff from our legal department and third-party forensic team.”

In other words, after nearly two years of effort by Saving Country Music—let alone the scores of other journalists and outlets attempting to get to the bottom of Cocaine Bear’s authenticity and origin story—the writer of the origin story seemed to imply that he had corroborating evidence that the Cocaine Bear and the origin story was actually real. So Saving Country Music waited a little longer, until late Monday afternoon (2-27), when Griffin Van Meter reached out with the official Kentucky for Kentucky statement.

You now may be asking yourself, “Why does anyone care about all of this, and what ultimately does this have to do with country music?” That is probably a good question. But it is imperative that the press get information right for the public, and pretty much everyone got this one wrong by taking Kentucky for Kentucky at its word—or at the least—not reading between the lines. Now the effort to try and authenticate the Cocaine Bear and its origin story has officially become yet another intriguing saga tied to the ever-evolving Bluegrass Conspiracy all unto itself.

Only in Kentucky.

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