Netflix just dropped its limited docu-series, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, which centers on the life of Joe Exotic. If you're not familiar with the mullet and extravagant shirt-rocking ex-zookeeper, then that's a real shame.
He sounds like someone Will Ferrell and Adam McKay would devise as a recurring character on SNL who would eventually get his own absurd movie. I mean, the man had a three-way marriage: Travis Maldonado and John Finlay are his former partners, and monkeys attended.
If you're wondering where the "Tiger King" moniker comes from: it's one that Joe had ascribed to himself. Owning what he called the largest tiger collection in the USA, Joe had a massive 16-ace private zoo in Wynnewood, Okla. — about an hour north of the Texas state line.
If you've ever driven up or down I-35 between Dallas and OKC, then there was a good chance you've taken a gander at Joe Exotic's caricature cowboy mustache and bleached blonde mullet.
As if that wasn't enough, Joe Exotic had an affinity for animal print shirts: the more electric and gaudy, the better. He made appearances on CBS This Morning, BBC, CNN, and drew in millions of views on his personal YouTube channel: Joe Gone Wild and Joe Exotic TV. He also had plans to run for president, which was probably a huge PR stunt.
For Joe Exotic, there wasn't any separation between his work and personal life. He was wholly committed to making his private zoo as spectacular as possible.
However, the spectacle came at a price. As the bigger and more vocal Joe Exotic got about promoting his business, the more he opened himself up to criticism, especially from members of the exotic animal community. One such critic was Carole Baskin, who owned a big cat sanctuary in Tampa, Fla., who took issue with Joe Exotic's affinity to breeding big cats and other animals kept on the premises: alligators, bears, lions, and Napoleon Dynamite's favorite: lion tiger hybrids.
Another big gripe that Carole and other animal rights activists had with Joe Exotic was that his park allowed children to pet and play with the animal cubs. While they're obviously adorable, many zoologists point out how this hinders an animal's ability to properly develop and thrive naturally.
Joe Exotic had a budding "rivalry" with Carole, one that culminated in him being charged with two murder-for-hire crimes.
His obsession with "pushing back" against Carole and animal rights activists who publicly criticized his park, which eventually collapsed, took a dark turn. He'd upload videos with vague and not-so-vague threats about what would happen if anyone came to his place of business to protest his treatment of animals.
In one video, he shot a blow-up doll dressed up to look like Carole point blank with a pistol.
"You wanna know why Carole Baskin better never, ever, ever see me face-to-face ever, ever, ever again? That is how sick and tired of this shit I am. Have a great night, ladies and gentlemen, and I will see you tomorrow night."
But before the zoo came crashing down, before it caught fire after an alleged arson attack that "boiled" Joe's alligators alive, before Mr. Exotic was arrested and sentenced to 22 years in prison, he was in a polyandrous marriage.
Joe Exotic married Travis Maldonado and John Finlay in a three-way ceremony.
A marriage that ended with the same level of tragic, high-dramatic absurdity as his own business. In early 2014, Joe Exotic committed to Travis Maldonado and John Finlay in a three-man ceremony where they donned pink dress shirts and black jeans. Some of the wedding guests were animals: the flower girls were monkeys, and the ring-bearer was a Celebes crested macaque.
Finlay eventually left Exotic that year, saying he became controlling and manipulative.
Their disagreements resulted in an explosive breakup that culminated in a parking lot brawl incited by Finlay, who was ultimately charged with assault and battery.
Travis stuck by Joe Exotic's side until Oct. 6, 2017, when he passed away due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
It wasn't a suicide, however. The 23-year-old was hanging out with other staff members at the park while playing around with his Ruger pistol.
Travis read online that the gun wouldn't fire if the magazine wasn't it, even if there if a bullet was in the chamber. He pointed the gun to his head after taking the clip out and fired. It turns out what he read on the internet was false — the gun did fire and it killed Travis.
Joe was devastated after Travis' death.
Originally hailing from California, Joe Exotic's deceased spouse was first recommended by another employee at the zoo. Travis was addicted to meth, and she thought that working with animals would help keep him on the straight and narrow. Not only did he take a liking to Joe, but Travis reportedly loved the work at the park and built a special bond with the creatures there.
The day after his death, Joe Exotic held a press conference wearing an outfit similar to the one he donned on his wedding day.