This morning, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum in conjunction with KY for KY unveiled the first Cocaine Bear Bobblehead. The limited-edition bobblehead features the 175-pound black bear who died of an overdose of cocaine after discovering a batch of the drug in the mountains of Fannin County, Georgia, just south of the Tennessee border nearly 40 years ago in 1985. The very same bear is said to be on display in Lexington, Kentucky, at the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall and has garnered a significant following that culminated in the recently released movie Cocaine Bear.
Standing on the display mount, accessorized by a duffle bag of cocaine, the fun-loving Cocaine Bear bobblehead sports its chained plaque including its fateful description. The bobbleheads, which will be individually numbered, are only available through the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum’s Online Store and the KY for KY Online Store. The bobbleheads, which are expected to ship in July, are $30 each plus a flat-rate shipping charge of $8 per order.
In December of 1985, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that a 175-pound black bear had “died of an overdose of cocaine after discovering a batch of the drug,” according to a three-sentence item from United Press International that appeared in the New York Times. The cocaine was apparently dropped from a plane piloted by convicted drug smuggler Andrew Thornton because he was carrying too heavy a load while parachuting. The bear was found dead in the mountains of Fannin County, Georgia, just south of the Tennessee border, alongside 40 opened plastic containers of cocaine. Dr. Kenneth Alonso, the state’s chief medical examiner at the time, said after a December 1985 autopsy that the bear had absorbed three or four grams of cocaine into its blood stream, although it may have eaten more.
Nearly 40 years later, the story inspired a movie, loosely inspired by the events. “Cocaine Bear,” a comedy-horror film directed by Elizabeth Banks and written by Jimmy Warden, was released in the United States on February 24th, 2023, by Universal Pictures. The film, which marked the posthumous release for Ray Liotta who died May 26th, 2022, received generally positive reviews from critics and grossed $30 million worldwide in its debut weekend.
In 2015, Whit Hiler and Griffin VanMeter installed Cocaine Bear’s taxidermied body into their Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington, Kentucky. The Kentucky gift shop sells various styles of Cocaine Bear t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, and other memorabilia. “Visited (by) and bringing joy to thousands of people every month, Cocaine Bear is not just a roadside attraction — and soon-to-be biopic antihero — he’s also a city mascot, a heartwarming community builder, and a warning to all the dangers of drug abuse,” Kentucky for Kentucky wrote in a statement timed to the release of the movie. “We trademarked his name and likeness as part of our guardianship, popularizing him as a character. You can visit Cocaine Bear free of charge during opening hours. We hope that you do.”
As it turns out, VanMeter confirmed in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that Kentucky for Kentucky’s Cocaine Bear claim was fabricated. The taxidermy bear had previously resided in the basement of a friend’s parents. Thanks to some creative advertising and a fictional backstory on how they came to own the bear, the legend of Cocaine Bear took off.
“Nothing makes a bear’s head bobble more than a bunch of cocaine,” said Griffin VanMeter from Kentucky for Kentucky. “We’re honored that Cocaine Bear is making its bobblehead debut with the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum. They’ve been amazing partners to develop this Cocaine Bear keepsake with–the first of its kind!”
“We’re excited to be working with KY for KY to create the first bobblehead of Cocaine Bear whose wild story nearly 40 years ago has taken on a life of its own,” National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum co-founder and CEO Phil Sklar said. “Since the release of the movie of the same name, Cocaine Bear has found himself in the spotlight. This bobblehead is a must-have for fans of this party animal.”