BURKBURNETT (KFDX/KJTL) — Netflix is now the go-to, binge-worthy spot for those of us stuck at home and unless you’ve been quarantined under a rock, you’ve definitely heard of Joe Exotic aka the “Tiger King.”
Netflix’s latest popular docu-series focuses on the fascinating story of Exotic: A mulleted, gun-toting polygamist, country-western singer, who happens to own hundreds of wild cats and animals at his Oklahoma roadside zoo who was also arrested for a murder for hire plot.
“His ego was his best friend,” former Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park Manager John Reinke said.
That’s how Reinke described his former boss Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic. Reinke managed his zoo for nearly 15 years and is now reflecting on the turbulent world of big cat owners, now come to light in this jaw-dropping docu-series.
“If you’re an animal person it’s something that you would enjoy doing every day,” Reinke said. “I was there for the animals. I wasn’t really there for the people.”
According to Reinke, they filmed the Netflix series for five years. He said there was one incident that didn’t make the series between one of Exotic’s husbands, Dillon and business partner Jeff Lowe, that he will never forget.
“Jeff Lowe and Dillon Passage fought in the back parking lot in the gravel for 15 minutes. I’m talking about roll around, I mean Jeff Lowe is 56 and Dillon was 24, maybe, they held their own. I mean that old guy held up to that 24-year-old. I mean it was a pretty good fight.”
Other than owning a massive wildlife playground with lions, tigers and bears, Exotic was also a country singer, well sort of.
“As the time went on and he had his bout with Carole, his ego just got bigger and bigger and bigger and all of a sudden he started keeping notes,” Reinke said. “All of a sudden he turned them into songs. Well, to break everybody’s heart, it’s not him singing.”
Exotic was arrested in 2018 for trying to hire someone to murder Carole Baskin, an animal rights activist and owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida in 2017. He was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison earlier this year. A crime Reinke said is out of character, even for the “Tiger King.”
“I was kind of shocked that Joe would actually go that far because it’s not him,” Reinke said. “But the more I’ve read, the more I’ve heard, the more I’ve seen, someone provoked him to go that far.”
Exotic claimed he was framed, something Reinke agrees with.
“I think he was framed,” Reinke said. “Did he say he wanted to kill her? Nine million times, all of us did. She was suing all of us at one time in federal court. It was just crazy. That doesn’t mean we are going to go out and do it. I don’t think he’d ever done it if someone wasn’t poking him in the back.”
What lies ahead for the “Tiger King” is uncertain, but it’s a story that will be talked about amongst all you cool cats and kittens for years to come.
Last week, Exotic filed a federal lawsuit against a number of government agencies and his former business partner to the tune of $94 million in damages. Exotic is asking for $15 million for false arrest, false imprisonment, selective enforcement and the death of his mother.
For Reinke, he is back home in Burkburnett, TX, working on cars but said he still has a passion for big cats and other exotic animals.