Tiger King Zookeeper Erik Cowie Is Dead At 53

Erik Cowie, best known for his involvement in Netflix’s runaway hit docuseries Tiger King, has died. Cowie served as the Head Keeper at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal, which belonged to the show’s polarizing lead, Joseph Maldonado-Passage, or Joe Exotic. Cowie was 53 at the time of his passing.

The Tiger King alum was found dead this past Friday in a New York City residence, where his body was found by a friend. Local law enforcement officials informed TMZ that there did not seem to be any foul play when it came to Erik Cowie’s passing. However, officials report that the man had been drinking heavily and that a bottle of vodka was present at the scene of his death. Cowie, who had been living and working in Oklahoma for a while, was reportedly in New York to visit friends.

Over the course of the docuseries, the keeper proved to be an honest interviewee and a somewhat of a grounding element for the over-the-top show. Joe Exotic came under scrutiny for alleged abuse towards his animals with other reports claiming that he would kill tigers for one reason or another. Erik Cowie once told reporters that he “knew cats were getting shot.”

Joe Exotic would ultimately leave the G.W. Zoo in 2018 and was eventually arrested that same year for numerous charges of animal abuse. He was also charged on two counts of attempted murder for hire in a plot to kill rival and Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin. Erik Cowie remained with the zoo, which was subsequently headed by Exotic’s partner, Jeff Lowe. The park would eventually be closed for good in August 2020 after Baskin’s legal acquisition of the property.

Following the events of Tiger King, Erik Cowie would return to the public eye again for Netflix’s follow-up reunion. Cowie appeared to be in a good place and had even gotten his teeth fixed (after viewers assumed his missing teeth were the result of drug use). While speaking with host Joel McHale, the keeper stated that his loyalty remained to the animals he cared for and not his former employer. He would even go on to declare that Joe Exotic would die in prison.

More recently, the former zoo employee had experienced some legal problems, as he was arrested in Oklahoma earlier this year for DUI following a car accident. He would later plead guilty and was set for sentencing, though he never appeared in court.

Erik Cowie was introduced very early in the Tiger King documentary. The candid zoo employee explained that when he first arrived at Joe Exotic’s Oklahoma compound, he was on “kind of the end of my ropes.” He went on to say that he found out about the zoo position through Craigslist and soon took a liking to doing shows with tigers.

We here at CinemaBlend extend our thoughts to the loved ones of Erik Cowie at this time.

Erik Swann
Senior Content Producer

Covering superheroes, sci-fi, comedy, and almost anything else in film and TV. I eat more pizza than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.