Cocaine Bear is having an incredibly busy year, which is surprising considering nearly four decades ago he died from ingesting too much cocaine that fell from the sky.
The stuffed black bear, who has been on display at the Kentucky Fun Mall in Lexington since 2015, recently had his tragic death dramatized in a movie directed by Elizabeth Banks and was spoofed at the Oscars. Now, with his new fame, the bear has taken to officiating a wedding, his first, on Monday afternoon.
Flanked by flowers perched on makeshift Greek columns, with a large movie poster advertising Cocaine Bear on its left, the bear swapped his cowboy hat for a top hat to preside over the wedding of Armando Elizondo and Alexandra Venturino, a Pikeville couple.
Kentucky law requires marriages to be presided over by a human, and the couple was later lawfully wedded by Griffin VanMeter, the co-owner of the store, the store's spokesperson, Anne Livengood, said.
"Just to make sure it's actually binding," Livengood told BuzzFeed News.
Owners of the Kentucky Fun Mall claim that the bear in their shop is indeed the taxidermied body of the black bear in Georgia that overdosed on cocaine that had been flung out of a plane by a convicted drug smuggler in the '80s. Former agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who were involved in the case, however, have said the bear's decomposing corpse was found months after its estimated death.
"Our bear could not have been taxidermy," retired GBI agent Fran Wiley told Vanity Fair.
Still, the stuffed bear in Kentucky has claimed the legacy of Cocaine Bear.
The bear's potential as a wedding officiant was first floated publicly by VanMeter in an interview with Roadside America. Since then, Livengood said multiple people have asked the store about getting married by the bear, but only Elizondo and Venturino were serious from the get-go. The store did not charge the couple money for the ceremony, but Livengood said they might institute a wedding fee down the line.
"It's fun for us to do it," Livengood said. "It's just a great thing to add to Cocaine Bear's résumé."
More famous in death than in life, the local Kentucky-area legend became even more popular after Banks's movie hit theaters in February. In the film, Cocaine Bear is portrayed as a ferocious coke fiend who mauls humans and goes to great and violent lengths to get its fix.
The real story is far less vicious. In December 1985, the bear's 175-pound body was simply found in the woods among packages of cocaine that were ripped open, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said at the time.
While the bear is now a popular attraction for locals and tourists in light of the movie's release, Livengood said Cocaine Bear's fame long preceded the film.
"That Cocaine Bear had grown so much in popularity is why a movie came out about it — not so much the other way around," she said.
This story has been updated to include clarification from former law enforcement agents about the Kentucky bear's authenticity.