Tiger King star Joe Exotic — whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage — said he’s “not shocked” by the death of Erik Cowie, who appeared alongside him in last year’s popular Netflix docuseries.
Cowie worked for more than five years as Exotic’s zookeeper, and he testified against him in the trial that sent Exotic to prison for animal abuse and his part in a murder-for-hire plot against Carole Baskin. Exotic claimed that, except for in court, the last time he spoke to Cowie is when he helped him get a job taking care of some of his tigers near Tulsa, Okla., after he had been fired for drinking on the job.
“So am I shocked he is gone? No, not a bit. I put him through rehab in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and still [gave] him a home and a job,” Exotic told the Daily Mail in an interview published Thursday. “He had a horrible disease of alcohol.”
The New York City Police Department on Tuesday confirmed to Yahoo Entertainment that officers responding to a 911 call last Friday at 5:30 p.m. had found an unconscious, 52-year-old male at an apartment building. They later confirmed Cowie’s identity to the local NBC affiliate. Officials said emergency medical workers had pronounced him dead at the scene, with both TMZ and Page Six reporting that a large bottle of alcohol was nearby. A spokeswoman in the medical examiner’s office tells Yahoo that the cause and manner of death is still being determined.
What was clear is that Exotic was still angry at his former employee for the testimony and for saying on a Tiger King aftershow about Exotic’s 22-year sentence in federal prison, “Good riddance.”
“I’m sad he is gone but the last words he spoke about me backfired,” Exotic said of Cowie. “Never wish evil upon anyone else. God is watching.”
Exotic said he thinks Cowie’s death will be a boon to him in court, because he believes Cowie committed perjury. A court ruled in July to vacate Exotic’s sentence on a technicality, though his conviction still stands.
His team did not immediately respond to Yahoo Entertainment’s request for comment.