When Erik Cowie was found dead, facedown in a bedroom in New York on September 3, the cause was unknown, but according to TMZ, the 53-year-old’s death didn’t look suspicious. Cowie, of Netflix’s “Tiger King” fame, lived in Oklahoma but was in New York City visiting a friend. Per TMZ, no drugs were found at the scene, though there was a large bottle of vodka, and Cowie had a history of alcohol abuse.
According to People, the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that Cowie died as a result of “acute and chronic alcohol abuse.” It’s a sad end to Cowie’s life, which had taken an unexpected turn after the popularity of “Tiger King” catapulted the staff at Joe Exotic’s former Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park into reality TV celebrity status.
Even the fact that he became head zookeeper at the park was an unlikely path. USA Today reported that Cowie said in the Netflix documentary, “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! … “Look at me now. I’m doing tiger shows.”
“The real Tiger King”
Erik Cowie ultimately testified against zoo owner Joe Exotic, whose real name is Joe Maldonado-Passage, helping to land him in prison for animal abuse and attempting to have his longtime nemesis, Carole Baskin, murdered. Cowie stayed on with the tigers though, when new owner, Jeff Lowe, who took over the park from Maldonado-Passage.
According to TMZ, Lowe had planned to take Cowie’s ashes back to his Oklahoma Zoo and scatter them there, but that’s because he didn’t think Cowie had any family who would claim the remains. However, a relative did come forward to collect Cowie’s ashes. TMZ reported Cowie had two children but he was estranged from them.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 95,000 people die in the U.S. annually due to alcohol-related causes. It is the third-leading cause of preventable death after tobacco use and poor diet combined with physical inactivity.
Tiger King Park’s Instagram page has an IGTV tribute and memorial to Cowie. In part, it reads, “Thank you, everyone, for your kind words and sharing a memory of Erik Cowie. He sincerely and truly loved all the animals, especially the big cats. He cared for each and everyone and they all loved and trusted him. He will be incredibly missed.” At the end of the slideshow presenting various photos of Cowie, they call him “The real Tiger King.”
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit theSubstance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration websiteor contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
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