Former Head Zookeeper and 'Tiger King' Star Erik Cowie Passed Away in September 2021

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Nov. 19 2021, Published 9:15 a.m. ET

The head zookeeper of Joe Exotic's (aka Joseph Allen Maldonado Passage) scandalous Oklahoma zoo, The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, was found dead in an apartment in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, N.Y., in September 2021. Erik Cowie earned considerable popularity for his work ethic. Who was the Tiger King star? What was his cause of death?

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'Tiger King 2' pays tribute to Erik Cowie, the former head zookeeper of G.W. Zoo.

A hard-working employee, Erik received praise for his considerate and caring approach. Unlike Joe — who split his time between running the park and chasing fame as a country musician, YouTuber, and magician — Erik spent a large chunk of time looking after the animals.

Erik died after a prolonged battle with alcohol addiction. According to the N.Y.C. Medical Examiner’s office, the cause of death was acute and chronic alcohol use. Erik was only 53.

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Erik Cowie became a vocal critic of Joe Exotic after the release of Season 1 of 'Tiger King.'

Tiger King brought Erik a great deal of fame. Like some of the other cast members, he struggled to suppress his sense of discontent, publicly slamming Joe for the way he treated the animals. As he told Joel McHale, the host of the after-show special, The Tiger King and I, at times he felt like he was exploited because of his good nature and strong bond with the animals.

"It’s been in the back of my head. I think about it a lot — a lot of times when we put cats down, they used me because just my appearance or my voice [meant] I could get a cat up the side of the cage where we can dart it and tranquilize it," he said. "Those cats trusted me up until the end. Sometimes, I swear they’re like, 'Dude you let me down.'"

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Erik Cowie testified against Joe Exotic in 2019.

Erik testified against Joe in the 2019 trial, helping to confirm the animal abuse allegations. Joe was eventually convicted on 17 charges of animal abuse and two counts of murder-for-hire. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison in January 2020.

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Jeff Lowe, Joe's former business partner, took over the zoo in 2016 before Joe's legal troubles began.

But the park permanently closed in August 2020, a few months after the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service launched an investigation into the standard of veterinary care provided. Jeff's exhibitor license was suspended on Aug. 17, 2020.

Thanks to the success of the show, Erik got the chance to star on a Halloween special of Zak Bagans's Ghost Adventures. As a makeshift tour guide, he took the thoroughly spooked-out crew around the strange piece of land the G.W. Zoo had become.

Some believe that Erik Cowie went on to work for an Oklahoma City restaurant after 'Tiger King.'

According to outlets like The Cinemaholic, Erik went on to work at Michael’s Grill, a highly-rated restaurant serving seafood, Italian specialties, and bistro classics in Oklahoma City. As a LinkedIn page suggests, he might have been a cook.

Tiger King 2 is available on Netflix now.

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