Who Is Joe Exotic? Inside New 'Tiger King' Netflix Show About Tiger Breeder Who Plots Murder-For-Hire

Photo: Netflix
Who Is Joe Exotic? Inside New 'Tiger King' Netflix Show About Tiger Breeder Who Plots Murder-For-Hire
Entertainment And News

If you're looking at a weekend spent socially distancing yourself from your usual activities and wondering what to do instead, Netflix has the answer. They just released a new series called Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness and it's the perfect binge while we're all locked in our homes to avoid coronavirus. 

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Tiger King is the story of a roadside zoo owner who calls himself Joe Exotic and managed to live up to the name. Aside from his career owning a private zoo with dozens of wild animals, where guests can pay extra for a chance to pet a tiger cub, he was a country music performer, a magician, and a fringe political candidate. He was also married to multiple men — sometimes at the same time. He sports multiple piercings, a platinum mullet and plenty of tattoos.

But the real heart of the series is his rivalry with animal rights activist Carole Baskin, a woman who literally wears wreaths of flowers in her hair, who wanted to shut down his operation on the grounds that breeding big cat cubs is cruel. He got so frustrated with her that he hired someone to kill her.

What is Tiger King and who is Joe Exotic? Read on for the details (and some spoilers) of this Netflix series. 

1. Who is Joe Exotic and what is 'Tiger King'?

Needless to say, Joe Exotic and Tiger King are not his real names. He was born Joseph Schreibvogel and he was the third of five children. His family moved around a bit during his teens and he fostered a love of animals, raising show pigeons and getting involved in 4-H. In some accounts of his life, he claims to have been raped by an older boy when he was only five years old. In the series, he tells the camera that he knew he was gay by the time he was 13 but his father disapproved. He recounts his father asking him to promise not to come to his funeral. He says that was such a difficult thing that later it drove him to attempt suicide, driving his car off a bridge. In his recollection, he broke his back and required months to recover from his injuries. 

However, no one else remembers this incident and his boyfriend of the time says he only recalls a shoulder injury, not the severe back injury Joe Exotic talks about. 

Even though his family had issues with his sexuality, Joe Exotic didn't let them limit his dating life. Well before same-sex unions were legal, he met and married the man he considered his first husband, Brian Rhyne. After Rhyne died in 2001, he was married in quick sequence to men named J. C. Hartpence and John Finlay. While still married to Finlay, he brought another man named Paul (last name withheld) into the relationship and all three lived together for a while. Paul left and was replaced by yet another man named Travis to create a new three-way. John eventually left to marry a woman. Travis later shot himself in a gun accident and died in 2017. Months later, Joe Exotic married a younger man named Dillon Passage. It's not clear if any of these were legally-binding marriages. 

Joe Exotic and one of his cats. 

2. He went from owning a pet store to buying a farm to house big cats.

In the years after the accident, Joe Exotic got involved in the pet shop industry, buying a store called Pet Safari with his brother Gerold in Florida. In 1997. Gerold was killed in a car crash and his family received a hefty settlement from the company that owned the truck that caused his death. Joe Exotic convinced Gerold's widow that the most fitting memorial would be a wildlife park where people could interact with big cats, saying Gerold had always wanted to go on a safari and see such animals. They bought land in Oklahoma and opened the Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park but everyone just called it the G.W. Zoo. Soon, he began populating the zoo with wild animals, breeding them and raising the cubs on the land. 

3. Letting people pet tiger cubs was profitable. 

In order to keep the zoo up and running, Joe Exotic needed a lot of money. He relied on allowing the public hands-on contact with his animals to draw visitors. He even took his animals out to other sites where he did magic shows (yes, he was also a magician) and allowed people to pay for photo opportunities with baby tigers and leopards. The shows were incredibly popular and brought in a lot of money but not everyone was enthralled with the idea. 

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4. Who is Carole Baskin?

Carole Baskin is the owner of wildlife rescue in Florida called Big Cat Rescue and in the docu-series, she portrays herself as the patron saint of captive cats. Her mission is to rescue animals that have been privately owned and to lobby for stricter regulations on ownership and breeding of exotic animals. It's not illegal to own a tiger in many parts of the Unites States, though it's obviously a terrible idea. People buy them and when they grow to their full size and become dangerous, they either get rid of them, or enclose them in cages and mistreat them. Baskin has worked diligently to change the laws on this for the sake of the cats.

However, her story isn't all sweetness and light. She met her second husband Don Miller while they were both still married. He had given her a fake name when they met and it was months into the affair when she found out that he was actually a wealthy businessman. They eventually left their spouses and married one another. They started taking in big cats but quarreled over their mission in keeping them: she wanted to raise awareness and he wanted a profit-making zoo operation not unlike with Joe Exotic was doing. One day, after a fight, he allegedly went to the airport to board a plane to Miami but he never got on the flight and no one ever saw him again. His daughter has accused Baskin of killing him and feeding his body to a tiger. 

Carole Baskin runs an animal rescue.

5. Why does Joe Exotic hate Carole Baskin?

When Baskin found out about Joe Exotic's business of breeding big cats so that there was an endless supply of cubs for people to pet, she wanted to shut him down. According to the Netflix series, she spent years targeting his cub-petting business, begging venues not to schedule his shows and raising awareness about his zoo and the animals there. The efforts were successful and it got to a point that t the G.W Zoo couldn't book off-site gigs anymore and Joe Exotic's income dried up, making it harder to keep his whole operation afloat. Joe Exotic took to social media to put Baskin on blast, often ranting about her on his web broadcasts from the zoo. 

6. He eventually tried to have Baskin killed.

In 2017, Joe Exotic was becoming increasingly unhinged. He killed several of his tigers, supposedly to free up cages, something that drew the eye of law enforcement, who suspected he was violating the endangered species act. We also learn that he offered to pay a man to have Baskin killed, offering a $3,000 upfront payment and more money after her death. Unfortunately for him, the man he tried to hire was an undercover FBI agent. In 2019, he was convicted of the murder for hire scheme as well as animal abuse charges. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison in early 2020. 

All of this is just the bare bones of this story, believe it or not. The story has also been covered on the podcast 'Over My Dead Body' and is now a seven part docu-series on Netflix. 

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Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. She is the creator of the blog FeminXer and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.

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