The cause of death for Erik Cowie, who appeared on Netflix’s “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” has been determined.
The former head zookeeper of Joe Exotic’s now-defunct G.W. Zoo died naturally from acute and chronic alcohol use on Sept. 3, Julie Bolcer from NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner confirmed to USA TODAY Monday.
Last month, the New York Police Department confirmed to USA TODAY that a man was found dead in a Brooklyn apartment after authorities responded to a 911 call of an unconscious male in the bedroom. TMZ first reported the news.
Cowie appeared on Netflix’s wild true-crime docuseries, which premiered in March 2020 at the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns in the U.S. and attracted millions of viewers.
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“Tiger King” explores the life of Joe Exotic (real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage), a man with an affinity for big cats, blond mullets, guns and explosives, his Oklahoma park (referred to as the G.W. Zoo), his hatred for Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin and an assortment of other equally eccentric side characters.
Joe Exotic is serving 22 years in federal prison for his role in a failed murder-for-hire plot targeting Baskin and for violating federal wildlife laws, including killing five tigers and selling lion and tiger cubs.
Cowie worked at the G.W. Zoo for five years after discovering the job listing on Craigslist, he revealed in the Netflix documentary: “Look at me now. I’m doing tiger shows.”
“I’m kind of embarrassed to say it, but when I got here, I was on kind of the end of my ropes,” he said. “I found this place on Craigslist and I was like, ‘Man! I’ve never done this (expletive) before. What the (expletive)? Let’s go!'”
Cowie later testified against Joe Exotic in 2019, alleging that he heard the former Oklahoma zoo owner shoot and kill multiple big cats in October 2017.
“I knew what was going on. I’m (not) stupid,” Cowie told local reporters in Oklahoma City. “I knew cats were getting shot.”
During the “Tiger King” aftershow in April 2020, the deaths of the tigers were top of mind for Cowie when asked about his regrets working with Joe Exotic.
“A lot of times, when we put cats down, they’d use me, because … I could get a cat up to the side of a cage where we can dart it and tranquilize it so they could be put down and stuff,” Cowie said on “The Tiger and I.” “Those cats trusted me up until the end. And, somehow, sometimes I swear they were like, ‘Dude, you let me down.’ I could see if in their face and their eyes.”
When McHale brought up the assumption that a tiger would only be put down if there was a medical or other reason, such as if the animal posed a threat, Cowie responded: “You would think, but no.”
Like others, Cowie said he was adjusting to his newfound fame following the release of “Tiger King.”
“It’s rather odd – walking through the parking lot and everybody’s got their cellphones out,” he said. “I’m just a (expletive) guy.”
Contributing: Erin Jensen, Jenna Ryu
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