On Jan. 22, 2020, Oklahoma-based zookeeper Joe Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in prison for plotting to murder an animal rights activist who made it her mission to put him out of business. Now the 57-year-old’s life story is being told in Netflix’s new must-see docu-series, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem & Madness, which premieres on the streaming service on March 20.
It’s the perfect distraction as you self-isolate amid the coronavirus outbreak. What’s fascinating is that the wild story is true. Now behind bars, Joe (whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage), is an eccentric blond, mullet-wearing wannabe-country singer who loves lions and tigers, which he once proudly showed off in his zoo, Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park. But his life began to unravel when he became obsessed with Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue sanctuary, who led a protest campaign to stop him from owning and touring with his exotic animals. A bitter online feud spiraled into a thwarted murder-for-hire plot that landed him in prison. Here’s everything you need to know about Joe and his wild story:
1. Joe was convicted of two counts of murder-for-hire, after a jury found him guilty in 2019 of paying a man $3,000 to travel down to Florida to murder Carole. Joe was also convicted of eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for “falsifying wildlife records” and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act. The Justice Department accused him of killing five tigers in October 2017 to free up cage space for other big cats.
2. He ran for president in 2016 and for governor of Oklahoma in 2018. “First thing is, I’m not cutting my hair,” the zookeeper said in a campaign video played on an episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver in October 2016. “I’m not changing the way I dress. I refuse to wear a suit… I am gay. I’ve had two boyfriends most of my life… I am broke as s***.”
3. He was obsessed with fame. In addition to hosting his own online series, Joe filmed footage for a reality TV show that he was planning to pitch to a network. Meanwhile tourists could buy souvenirs in the zoo’s store, which included condoms with his face on it.
4. He was an aspiring country music star. A few of Joe’s music videos are featured in the docu-series. His songs include, “I Saw A Tiger” and “Here Kitty Kitty.”
5. He was once married to two men at the same time. In 2014 Joe married Travis Maldonado and John Finlay, according to Texas Monthly. The grooms all wore matching pink shirts and black jeans. Joe and John have since split. Travis died after accidentally shooting himself in the head in October 2017. Two months later, Joe married his current husband, Dillon Passage. Joe continues to maintain his innocence.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem & Madness will stream on Netflix from March 20 onwards.