Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness has become the hottest TV release of the year. Its portrayal of Joe Exotic, a flamboyant animal park owner and self-confessed big cat lover, is must-watch TV, and the events that unfold have to be seen to be believed. But if the seven-part series didn’t include enough salacious content, there are actually additional secrets that failed to make the final cut.
20. Exotic used to own a pet store with his brother
Before the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (often shortened to the G.W. Zoo) opened in Oklahoma in 1999, Exotic had another profession dedicated to animals. Along with his brother, Garold Wayne Schreibvogel, Exotic ran a pet store in Arlington, Texas, which opened in 1986.
Exotic opened a second pet store after the original shop closed in 1997, but tragedy soon ensued. Sadly, Exotic’s brother lost his life in a car accident that same year. Along with his parents, Exotic bought a farm in Oklahoma, and two years later opened the Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park (later the G.W. Zoo) dedicated to the memory of his brother. Two of his brother’s pets were the zoo’s originating tenants.
19. Exotic tried to breed a sabertooth tiger
In 2003 Exotic had his first taste of what is known as a liger: a cat that is the born as the result of breeding between a lion and a tiger. It was then that Exotic had the idea to try to attempt the same breeding. Returning to his park, he successfully bred his own liger. He later paired the liger with a lion to breed what is called a liliger.
The unusual breeding experiment didn’t end there for Exotic. He continued to pair the mixed breeds, which due to genetics, became larger each time. According to New York Magazine, Exotic’s largest hybrid animal came in at a weight of over a thousand pounds. The zoo owner allegedly believed that he could stay on this path to recreate the famous sabertooth tiger from prehistoric times, although the prospect of this biological experiment succeeding has been totally dismissed by experts.
18. Exotic wasn’t solely responsible for his music
One of the enduring themes of Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is Exotic’s music. But it turns out that Exotic is not the original songwriter of many of those songs, and it appears that he didn’t even sing some of them, despite swearing blind in the series that he did. “The Clinton Johnson Band played a significant part in writing and recording his songs,” wrote Lauren Smith McDonough in Men’s Health. In all of the videos shown in the series, Exotic is lip-syncing, so did he even sing them?
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, co-director and co-writer of the Tiger King series Rebecca Chaiklin spoke about Exotic’s music. “We were really struggling with what the truth of it [the origins and performance of Exotic’s music] was. We went back and forth on it. With certain songs, it became super confusing. And then our fact-checker told us we were wrong – he was actually singing on certain songs. It was tricky to determine which he was on,” Chaiklin said.
17. Exotic once shot and killed a bunch of emus
Exotic’s brushes with the law began long before the incidents described in the Tiger King series. One earlier run-in came after Exotic behaved badly toward a flock of emus that had been rescued in Red Oak, a Texas city to the south of Dallas. When he found out that someone had discovered the birds, Exotic offered to rehome them.
Unfortunately for Exotic, not to mention the emus, some of the birds escaped while he was loading them for transportation. In the ensuing melee, Exotic shot and killed some of the escapees with a shotgun. Despite being heavily criticized by the police, a grand jury decided against indicting the zoo owner because the law considered emus to be livestock. The surviving emus remained in Texas.
16. Exotic was once a teenage chief of police in Texas
Ironically, considering his run-ins with the law, and in a somewhat unlikely twist, Exotic was himself once a chief of police back in Texas. And he was only a teenager at the time to boot. It all began when he joined the tiny Eastvale police department in 1982 after he left school.
Eastvale was a tiny settlement with a reported population of just 500 in the census of 1980. Exotic made it to chief of police at the tender age of 19, but he only had a few officers under his command. Serious crime was rare, and while serving as chief, Exotic claims, he tried to end his life by crashing his police cruiser.
15. Cardi B is an Exotic supporter
Exotic has reached impressive levels of notoriety and fame since Tiger King hit screens on Netflix. As a result, he has also attracted some well-known supporters to his cause. One such supporter is American singer and actress Cardi B, who has tweeted about Exotic and has even begun a GoFundMe page to help raise financial support for the former zoo owner.
“They did Joe so dirty over and over again,” Cardi B wrote on her official Twitter feed on March 27, 2020. That was among a number of tweets that the singer posted while she was viewing the series. “About to start a GoFundMe account for Joe. He shall be free,” she added in a March 28 post.
14. Some stars of the Tiger King series don’t like the portrayal
Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite Exotic being delighted with the documentary (“he is absolutely ecstatic” co-director and co-writer Eric Goode told the Los Angeles Times, other protagonists were less than happy with the way they were painted in the seven-episode series. Two such participants are Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, a fellow park owner in Florida, and Exotic’s nemesis, Carole Baskin.
Antle released a statement about Tiger King. “It is important to understand that this series is not a documentary; it’s sensationalized entertainment with paid participants,” part of that statement read. As for Baskin, she penned her disappointment directly in a blog post on her website. “There are not words for how disappointing it is to see that the series… has had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers,” Baskin wrote.
13. Exotic is still married
An interesting thread throughout the Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness documentary series is Exotic’s complicated love life. Exotic, who is gay, has had a number of serious relationships, many of which are touched upon or are featured directly in the series. The final beau to be seen in the series is Dillon Passage, whom Exotic married in 2017.
Passage has subsequently been asked on Instagram if he is still in a relationship with Exotic. “I’m still married to Joe, but my social media platform isn’t used for any Joe things. Thank you though,” Passage replied. Watching Tiger King, it’s difficult to keep track of how many relationships and husbands there have been.
12. Exotic has had five husbands, not three, and one is now a convicted murderer
Certainly, three marriages are featured in the Tiger King series, but Exotic has had more husbands than that. Not all of the weddings were official, but it appears that Exotic has actually had five husbands at the last count. His first unofficial husband, Brian Rhyne, died back in 2001.
In 2002 Joe once again got unofficially hitched, this time to a man by the name of J.C. Hartpence. Yet the relationship soured, with both men threatening each other. In Exotic’s case, the threat involved feeding his partner to one of the tigers at the G.W. Zoo. The two split up, and Hartpence went on to be jailed for first-degree murder.
11. There’s a podcast that predated the Netflix series by two weeks, and it could get turned into a mini-series
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is not the first dramatic release covering events surrounding the G.W. Zoo and its colorful owner, Exotic. Robert Moor produced a podcast, titled Joe Exotic: Tiger King, which was released only two weeks before the Netflix series. “I spent four years working on a podcast and a long magazine story about Joe and Carole. I spent a week living at the zoo. I’ve spoken with almost everyone you’re seeing in the doc, and I attended the trial,” Moor revealed in a Twitter post.
Fans of the podcast and the Netflix series can also look forward to a mini-series based on the story. The series, to be produced by Universal, will star Kate McKinnon – at least according to Moor – with the actress also set to co-produce the show. Further casting announcements will come later.
10. The G.W. Zoo is still (just about) operational
This is a major spoiler alert, but Exotic is currently serving a term in a federal prison. In a bizarre twist, President Trump responded that he would “take a look” when asked about Exotic’s case in a press conference. But what of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, home to Exotic’s array of big cats, now that the flamboyant owner is no longer around?
The G.W. Zoo remains just about open. Co-director and co-writer of the series Eric Goode told Entertainment Weekly that Exotic’s former business partner, Jeff Lowe, was still carrying on with the operation. “I got a very long text today from Jeff Lowe, who is running Joe’s old zoo. All I can tell you is that he is basically operating on fumes. No one is going now, and there’s no source of income,” Goode said.
In one of the more bizarre twists to the story, even by Exotic’s standards, the zoo owner once had plans to open a seedy subattraction on land next to the current location of the G.W. Zoo. According to a tweet by Moor, the man who released a podcast on Exotic a matter of weeks before Tiger King premiered, the plan was formulated in collaboration with Lowe, Exotic’s one-time business partner.
“When Jeff teamed up with Joe, one of their schemes was to buy the land next door and open a bisexual strip club/petting Zoo called ‘Tigers and Dreams.’ Later, that plan changed into opening a drive-in movie theater,” Moor revealed in the tweet. Neither of those plans came to fruition.
8. Some of Exotic’s animals came from Michael Jackson
Exotic’s music wouldn’t instantly lead you to associate the zoo owner with the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, but the pair did share a taste in unusual pets. On Jackson’s Neverland ranch in California there were all sorts of weird and wonderful animals. And they all had to be found new homes when Jackson decided that he no longer wanted to live on the ranch.
According to reports, at least one of the alligators originally kept by Jackson ended up at the G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma. John Reinke, one of the Exotic’s employees, described one such animal to U.K. newspaper the Daily Mirror. “We call the big alligator M.J. He’s 14 feet long, weighs about half a ton and eats whole raw chickens,” Reinke said.
7. All of Exotic’s employees had to sign NDAs
In the Tiger King series, many of the G.W. Zoo’s employees are interviewed, giving their perspective on Exotic and what it was like working at the big cat park. One of the many enduring mysteries surrounding the scandal is why no employee felt compelled to speak out about the alleged goings-on under the stewardship of Exotic.
However, once again according to Moor, the producer of the Joe Exotic: Tiger King podcast, there was a very good reason why no G.W. Zoo worker ever went to the authorities. “People often ask why no one at Joe’s zoo ever ‘spoke out’. Part of the reason was because he [Exotic] made his employees sign a one-million-dollar non-disclosure agreement. (Which, it turns out, wasn’t legally valid),” Moor tweeted.
6. Exotic has been in a docuseries before
Exotic often seems like a natural in front of the cameras, and that’s not just because of the copious amounts of practice the zoo owner got from hosting his own YouTube channel. Unsurprisingly, given Exotic’s larger-than-life persona and unconventional choice of living, the flamboyant big cat lover had starred in a docuseries before.
Back in 2011, Exotic was featured in the BBC series Louis Theroux: America’s Most Dangerous Pets. “Traveling to America’s heartlands, Louis Theroux spends time with an Oklahoma man who has bred and collected over 150 tigers, visits the woman who privately owns one of America’s largest collections of chimpanzees, and finds himself in uncomfortably close contact with a number of big cats and dangerous primates,” the show’s synopsis helpfully reveals.
5. Exotic is loving the attention
What about Exotic now that Tiger King has hit our screens? According to the show’s co-director and co-writer, Eric Goode, Exotic is fully aware of his new-found fame. “Joe has called me quite a few times over the last few days and weeks. One, he is absolutely ecstatic about the series and the idea of being famous. He’s absolutely thrilled,” Goode told the Los Angeles Times.
Goode’s fellow director and writer Rebecca Chaiklin revealed a little more about Exotic’s delight. “You can hardly talk to him without him mentioning the amount of press he’s getting. He says people are asking to see his Prince Albert and girls are sending him sexy bikini pictures even though he’s gay. He’s over the moon,” Chaiklin told the Los Angeles Times.
4. Exotic had an interesting business relationship with a local police officer
Yet another secret unearthed regarding Exotic relates to a fire that broke out at the G.W. Zoo in March 2015 in which some crocodiles were sadly killed. Moor researched the events surrounding the fire for his podcast, Joe Exotic: Tiger King, and in doing so made contact with the local investigating police officer.
According to Moor, the morning after contacting the responsible officer, he received a phone call from Exotic himself. The zoo owner was angered that Moor was digging into events surrounding the fire at the G.W. Zoo. Once again, according to Moor, the very reason that Exotic had found out about Moor’s interest was because that same police officer also allegedly worked as Exotic’s limo driver.
3. Some of Exotic’s dead tigers ended up in a strange place
The big cats in Exotic’s zoo may have lived in somewhat extraordinary circumstances, and for many of those animals, their remains ended up in far from a conventional place too. Moor revealed details of the last resting place of some of Exotic’s cats in a March 22 tweet. “When Joe’s cats died, a lot of them got sold to this strange bones museum in Oklahoma City,” Moor wrote.
The visitor attraction, named Skeletons: Museum of Osteology, opened in 2010. According to its own website, the museum is “currently displaying over 300 skeletons from all corners of the world” and giving visitors “a unique opportunity to compare and contrast many rare species normally not seen in museum exhibits.” Among those exhibits, according to Moor at least, are some of Exotic’s old pets.
2. John Finlay has a new set of teeth (and would like Channing Tatum to play him in a movie)
An unlikely stars of the series is one of Exotic’s former husbands: John Finlay. The heavily tattooed Finlay often appears talking in front of the camera and is instantly recognizable from the fact he never appears to wear a shirt and has very few teeth. Finlay told TMZ that he had gotten a brand-new set of dentures back in July 2019 and was annoyed that the series didn’t show his new look.
Finlay also harbors hopes that the story of Exotic and the G.W. Zoo, as well as all the surrounding events, will be made into a movie. And the ex of Exotic has already made up his mind about who should portray him in any big-screen version of the story. “I would have to say Channing Tatum,” Finlay said on Lights Out With David Spade.
1. There could be an extra episode of Tiger King – and even a second season
The news that all Tiger King fans had been waiting for was announced by Netflix in a Tweet on April 9, 2020. “The Tiger King and I – a Tiger King aftershow hosted by Joel McHale and featuring brand new interviews with John Reinke, Joshua Dial, John Finlay, Saff, Erik Cowie, Rick Kirkham and Jeff and Lauren Lowe – will premier April 12,” the streaming service revealed.
If an additional episode is not enough to sate fans’ appetites, then Chaiklin’s comments to Entertainment Weekly should see excitement reach fever pitch. “To be continued,” she says after a long pause. “I mean, yes we have a crazy amount of footage and it’s a story that’s still unfolding. We’re not sure yet, but there could be a follow-up on this story because there’s a lot that’s still unfolding in it, and it’ll be just as dramatic and just as colorful as what has unfolded these past few years,” Chaiklin said.