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SYFY WIRE Cocaine Bear

Kentucky theater to host the 'real,' stuffed 'Cocaine Bear' for premiere of the drug-fueled film

Don't worry — it's stuffed and can't hurt anyone... we think.

By Josh Weiss
Cocaine Bear (2023)

Want to meet the actual forest-dwelling creature that inspired Universal Pictures' Cocaine Bear? No, we're not kidding! The Kentucky Theatre, a local arthouse cinema in Lexington, is offering up the opportunity to do just that to celebrate the film's opening later this month. 

"It’s not something we would normally play here as our fare, but given the local connection, we thought we should go for it," Kentucky Theatre Director Hayward Wilkirson tells SYFY WIRE, later adding: "We’re kind of going all in on it."

RELATED: Here are the black bear stats you need to know before 'Cocaine Bear' rampages into theaters

That "local connection" is Kentucky for Kentucky, a nearby company known for selling a wide variety of Kentucky-themed merchandise and for owning a stuffed bear, widely considered to be the one who famously overdosed on cocaine when a large shipment of the powdery white stuff was dropped by smugglers over the mountains of Georgia in 1985. The Kentucky for Kentucky website alleges that the the store got its hands on the taxidermied predator — which currently stands on display in the "Kentucky Fun Mall" — in the late 2000s from the wife of Ron Thompson (Thompson received it as a gift from his friend, country singer Waylon Jennings).

"I called them up and told them we were gonna have the movie and [asked] if they’d be willing to bring it to our lobby for a couple of days," Wilkirson says. "Not only were they pleased, but they said they had been contacted by a couple of more commercial multiplexes and told them that we were their first priority. They thought of us and we thought of them."

However, it should be noted that not everyone agrees on the status of the bear's authenticity. Per a report by Natalia Martinez of WAVE 3 (a local NBC affiliate in  Kentucky), there was no actual bear to stuff when authorities discovered the remains in '85. "We had bones and a little bit of hide,” a medical examiner familiar with the case explained to WAVE. “We had bones and used them to give us an idea of the height and weight the bear would have been."

"Cocaine Bear Conspiracy" is not something we had on our 2023 bingo card.

Lovingly referred to by Kentucky by Kentuvcky as "Pablo Escobear" (nicknames don't get much better than that), the lifeless varmint will grace the hundred-year-old Kentucky Theatre with its presence on opening weekend between Feb. 24-25.

"We put this up on Facebook a couple of days ago and I’ve never seen anything we’ve posted on social media spread so quickly," Wilkirson says of the guest of honor. "We reached out to Universal and talked to them about it and they were real pleased, and they’re sending us some extra swag to give away."

And what's a premiere celebration without a few light refreshments?

"We contacted a local baker and said, ‘You know, it’d be really funny if y’all could make us some bear-shaped cookies and put some powdered sugar on the nose.’ They loved the idea! I’m supposed to be trying these cookies in a couple of days. I’ve seen photos of them and they look awesome," Wilkirson concludes. "It’s the nature of arthouse cinema; we’re small, but we’ve got to get real creative in terms of what we do to make an event fun and get people in the door."


Taking just the slightest bit of creative liberty with the real-world source material, Cocaine Bear answers the mystery of what would have happened if the titular creature did not immediately perish, but went on a drug-fueled rampage after ingesting an insane amount of nose candy. Based on the trailers, the end result isn't all that pretty, as a ragtag collection of cops, hikers, and criminals all find themselves at odds with the raging carnivore.

Keri Russell (Antlers), O’Shea Jackson Jr. (Godzilla: King of the Monsters), Christian Convery (Sweet Tooth), Alden Ehrenreich (Solo: A Star Wars Story), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Brooklynn Prince (The One and Only Ivan), Isiah Whitlock Jr. (The Wire), Kristofer Hivju (Game of Thrones), Hannah Hoekstra (Faithfully Yours), Aaron Holliday (Euphoria), Margo Martindale (BoJack Horseman), and Ray Liotta (GoodFellas) make up the ensemble cast.

RELATED: Yep, the first trailer for ‘Cocaine Bear’ is exactly as bloody and bonkers as you’d imagine

Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2Charlie's Angels) directed the project, working off a screenplay from The Babysitter scribe, Jimmy Warden. Banks also produced the feature alongside Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Max Handelman, Brian Duffield, and Aditya Sood. Robin Mulcahy Fisichella, Alison Small, and Nikki Baida are executive producers.

Cocaine Bear arrives on the big screen Friday, Feb. 24.

Looking for more creature-based thrills? Jordan Peele's Nope is currently streaming on Peacock.

This story was originally published on Friday, Feb 3 and updated on Sunday, Feb. 5.