Elizabeth Banks has found her next directing project. This one, instead of revolving around acapella singing groups or a new rendition of Charlie’s Angels, the actor/director has decided to take on a real-life story, one that skirts the fringes of just about unbelievable. It involves cocaine, drug smuggling, and a 175-pound bear.
Cocaine Bear is the title of Elizabeth Banks’ new movie and it will be brought to you by The Lego Movie filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller. While the storyline, which we’ll delve into here shortly, sounds pretty remarkable, it is a true story with a very unhappy ending for a bear in the woods doing what bears normally do, forage for food.
The true story of the upcoming Elizabeth Banks movie involves Andrew Thornton, a former police officer who became a lawyer and then later turned into a drug smuggler. Thornton grew up in a privileged life. His parents were owners of Threave Main Stud farm in Bourbon County, Kentucky and young Andrew lived the good life. He attended prestigious private schools, was a member of prestigious private clubs, he was given it all. During his time in school, he transferred to a military school and from there joined the U.S. Army as a paratrooper, training that would come in handy for his nefarious deeds. Once he quit the army, he became a police officer in Lexington on their narcotics task force. At that time Thornton also went to the University of Kentucky Law School to become a lawyer. It was during this time that he began smuggling drugs.
Thornton was on a drug-smuggling run from Columbia dumping packages filled with cocaine from his Cessna. Each package was filled with approximately $15 million worth of cocaine. He and his partner were over northern Georgia when they put the plane on autopilot and jumped. According to reports, Thornton “hit his head on the tail of the aircraft” and was unable to open his parachute. Thornton’s body was found in a driveway in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was wearing night-vision goggles, a bulletproof vest, 75 pounds of cocaine, and Gucci loafers. It was also reported that Thornton was carrying $4,800 in cash, several knives, two guns, and a key to the Cessna.
The Cessna in question was later found crashed in the North Carolina mountains. Authorities were able to trace the flight path and upon that tracing, they found nine duffel bags filled with cocaine. Each one worth nearly $15 million. It was three months later that Pablo EscoBear (named after notorious Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar) entered the picture.
Thinking there was more cocaine scattered throughout Thornton’s run, investigators kept searching. They found the tenth bag, but this one was empty. Lying next to it was a 175-pound black bear, dead. Initially, it was a hunter in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest that found the bear, but it was clear what killed him. The black bear had ingested over 70-pounds of cocaine. “Its stomach was literally packed to the brim with cocaine. There isn’t a mammal on the planet that could survive that,” the medical examiner reported via the Independent. “Cerebral hemorrhaging, respiratory failure, hyperthermia, renal failure, heart failure, stroke. You name it, that bear had it.” But EscoBear’s story doesn’t end there.
The taxidermized bear went to a visitor center in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, then into storage after a wildfire almost took its life for a second time. EscoBear called a Nashville pawn shop home for a while before country music icon Waylon Jennings purchased it, giving it to a friend in Las Vegas. When that friend died, the bear was then bought by Chinese immigrant Zhu T’ang for a mere $200. When he passed away, Kentucky for Kentucky offered to purchase it, to which T’ang’s widow agreed. The stuffed bear is now enjoying his home at the Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington.
The story is being brought to the screen by scribe Jimmy Warden (The Babysitter: Killer Queen) and looks to be on Universal’s fast track for production. The plan is to get the Elizabeth Banks film in front of the cameras by summertime.
Cocaine Bear looks to be a change from what Elizabeth Banks has done in the past. She is also been linked to another Universal project as both director and star. This one would see (or not) Banks star in The Invisible Woman, after Universal’s successful attempt at reviving their classic monsters with Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man.