Erik Cowie, the zookeeper of Netflix’s zany animal documentary series “Tiger King,” has died at 53.
Authorities found Cowie’s body Sept. 3 in New York City, TMZ reported, after a friend found him face down in a bedroom.
It’s unclear why the animal trainer was in the Big Apple, as he lived in Oklahoma. No drugs were found at the scene and a toxicology report is expected.
Cowie appeared on the reality show as one of now-imprisoned star Joe Exotic’s longtime animal caretakers. After Joe, 58, was sent to jail, Cowie stayed and took care of his big cats at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.
He later testified against the animal wrangler who allegedly abused and killed some of his animals.
Cowie was busted for a DUI in Oklahoma earlier this year after being involved in a car accident. He pleaded guilty and was supposed to be sentenced shortly after the incident, but he failed to turn up for his hearing.
Many fans have speculated in the past that Cowie’s crooked teeth were due to meth use. He denied that rumor and once said his bad pearly whites were due to old age. He received dental implants in July 2020 from fellow “Tiger King” star Jeff Lowe.
Cowie had admitted to having a drinking problem in the past and according to TMZ, he previously said he was “at the end of [his] rope” with his alcoholism prior to finding Joe.
Joe, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, is serving 22 years in a federal medical prison in Fort Worth, Texas, after he allegedly tried to hire two hitmen to kill his business rival Carole Baskin.
Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue was awarded control over Exotic’s animal park in Wynnewood by a judge in 2020, part of the settlement in her long-standing trademark lawsuit against Exotic. Baskin sold the Oklahoma property and one of the provisions is that the land can’t be used as a zoo for 100 years. Lowe turned over all of the animals from Exotic’s zoo to the DOJ.