Like a stealthy tiger padding through the jungle, no one saw Netflix’s “Tiger King” coming. Once word started to spread to homebound viewers hungry for an engrossing quarantine watch, it was too late to un-see the questionable conditions the animals were kept in, and the questionable taste in tattoos of nearly everyone involved. Nielsen said that more than 34 million people watched the series in the first 10 days — more than Season 2 of “Stranger Things,” and almost as many viewers as “Stranger Things” Season 3.
It was the most tweeted-about show in the country the week after it came out, with celebrities like Chrissy Teigen, Kim Kardashian and Jared Leto weighing in. A wave of memes followed, then the announcement of an aftershow hosted by Joel McHale and TMZ’s “Tiger King: What Really Went Down?” on Fox.
By the time President Donald Trump was goaded into saying he would “look into” a pardon for Joe Exotic, “Tiger King” was firmly cemented into public consciousness as the first pop culture phenomenon of the coronavirus era.
If you, too, can’t stop thinking about Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin and Doc Antle and company, here’s an update on what they’re up to now and what the follow-up shows have revealed.
John Finlay: Joe’s ex-husband, who was also having relationships with several women at the animal park, ended his “marriage” with Joe Exotic in 2014, and says he was never legally married. He has since had his teeth fixed and is working as a welder and living with his fiancee Stormey. He started a Facebook page to counter what he didn’t like about the “Tiger King” series. (He is particularly steamed that the filmmakers chose not to show him with his new dentures.)
Things you didn’t know about John: After Joe had John arrested for assault, thus ending their relationship, he returned sometime later to manage Joe’s Safari Bar down the road from the zoo, and John helped Joe when he was distraught after the accidental shooting death of his other husband, Travis Maldonado. Finlay told Variety that doing the show “was a therapy thing for me” because there was “a lot of pent-up anger, rage, whatever you want to call it.”
Carole Baskin: Joe Exotic’s chief nemesis, Carole Baskin, released a statement after “Tiger King” premiered, calling it “salacious and sensational.” The lengthy statement goes on to refute the series’ insinuation that she may have been involved in the death of her husband Don Lewis, who disappeared without a trace. (Her household only had a small meat grinder, she says, while the Netflix doc showed a photo of a much larger one that could have more credibly ground up Lewis.) Now 58, she continues to live with her third husband, Howard Baskin, at the Big Cat Rescue facility near Tampa, Fla., and advocates to stop breeding big cats and keeping them in captivity. The facility is currently closed due to coronavirus, but you can see the cats on Instagram.
Things you didn’t know about Carole: She got married for the first time when she was just 17 and had a daughter, Jamie, who also works at Big Cat Rescue.
What about Don Lewis? Since the show was first released, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister has started looking into he disappearance of Baskin’s ex-husband Don Lewis. Chronister told TMZ he thinks more than one person was likely involved and the hopes that someone “will want to come in and get this off their chest.” Lewis’ attorney Joseph Fritz told TMZ that he thinks some clarity will emerge on the whereabouts of Baskin and that he believes the sources “are street people.”
Bhagavan “Doc” Antle: Doc Antle, owner of the Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, (T.I.G.E.R.S.) of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, released a statement saying he was “disappointed” in the series, and accusing producers of paying participants. The safari is currently closed due to the coronavirus crisis. Two of Antle’s children, Kody and Tawny, work at the institute.
What you didn’t know about Doc Antle: The 60-year old former animal trainer, whose name actually does appear to be Mahamayavi Bhagavan Antle (Bhagavan means “Lord” in Hindi), though he was called Kevin at school, says he trained as a doctor in China.
Antle continues to insist his facility adheres to high standards of animal welfare and that he does not have a “harem” of women, but merely has more than one girlfriend at a time. The South Carolina big cat lover is under investigation by multiple agencies for crimes surrounding the illegal transportation and sale of exotic species, according to TMZ.
Rick Kirkham: The producer who was shooting Joe Exotic’s reality TV web series started out as a crime reporter and began smoking crack while appearing on “Inside Edition.” He now lives in Bodo, Norway, where he feasts on reindeer stew with his new wife and is working on a documentary project about a man with an exciting double life, according to his Facebook post.
Things you didn’t know about Rick Kirkham: After all the footage from his Joe Exotic shoots burned in a suspicious fire at the zoo, he moved to Dallas, where his own house coincidentally burned down just six months later, according to a New York Magazine article by Robert Moor.
Joe Exotic: The central character, the Tiger King himself, Joe Maldonado-Passage (né Schreibvogel), was serving a 22-year sentence in Oklahoma’s Grady County Jail after being convicted of 17 counts of animal abuse and two counts of murder-for-hire. He was recently moved to a Texas jail where he is in quarantine; however he has not contracted coronavirus.
But being incarcerated didn’t stop the 57-year old former zoo owner from filing a $94 million lawsuit on March 17 (three days before the series dropped) against the Federal Government and Jeff Lowe, who took over the G.W. Zoo from Joe. According to Rolling Stone, he alleged that the government contributed to the death of his mother and that Lowe provided false statements to the feds.
Things you didn’t know about Joe: Though he appeared in a number of country music videos, he’s actually lip-syncing to music from the Clinton Johnson Band. According to Moor, Joe uses a crutch as a result of a car accident in 1985 in which he says he was attempting suicide.
As for some of the others in the series, Kelci Saffery, who lost part of an arm and returned to work soon after, prefers to be called Saff and uses him/his pronouns. The Hawaii native is reportedly still working at the zoo. In the aftershow, Saffery joked that Brandon Baker or Ken Jeong could play him if there was a “Tiger King” movie.
Jeff Lowe is still running the Greater Wynnewood Zoo and still with his wife Lauren, who has had at least one more daughter since the series filmed. He’s planning to open a new zoo in Oklahoma in hopes of starting fresh. Lowe is one of several “Tiger King” subjects, along with Saffery, Antle, Finlay, Joe Exotic’s current husband Dillon Passage, James Garretson and Joshua Dial who are available to send Cameo videos to fans for varying prices.