What is real and what’s faked in Netflix’s ‘Tiger King’?
Netflix’s true-crime docuseries Tiger King is just that – true. The story is what makes the show so appealing. It’s so crazy & insane it seems straight out of a movie. There is no way it’s real – but it is.
The docuseries was initially pitched to one of the show’s characters Carole Baskin as a Blackfish-like show about the big cat industry. Tiger King filmed for about five years, enough time for the subject matter to change.
The show evolved to what we know it now – a bonkers tale about big cat park owner Joe Exotic and his bitter feud with Baskin, murder for hire, animal abuse, and other crimes. The long shoot means there was a lot left on the cutting room floor, so what parts of the story were left out?
Joe Exotic’s husbands
Tiger King depicts three relationships for Exotic. He is a proud gay man and was involved in a polygamous marriage with John Finlay & Travis Maldonado, and is currently married to Dillon Passage.
These relationships were real, but the show does not include all of them. Before Finlay, Exotic met his first husband, 19-year-old Brian Rhyne, while he was a security guard at a gay cowboy bar in the 80s. Rhyne died in 2001 of an HIV-related illness.
Exotic then married a 20-something events manager named J.C. Hartpence. Exotic met Hartpence at another bar. The marriage was volatile, violent, and didn’t last long before they divorced. After the split, Hartpence was charged with murder and is serving a life sentence.
Exotic moved on to Finlay in 2003. Before Maldonado entered the relationship, there was another man. Exotic & Finlay were also dating a young man only referred to as Paul. Paul left the relationship and shortly after Exotic found Maldonado.
Joe’s a racist
We don’t think it would shock anyone to know that Exotic is racist. Tiger King does a great job of getting the audience to empathize with him. Part of their efforts was to leave out the racist rants Exotic would go on while filming. In an interview, co-director Rebecca Chaiklin characterized his comments as unsettling.
“I think most of it was ignorance and not having a lot of exposure, and I think he even evolved over the course of the time that we filmed”, she told The Hollywood Reporter. She also explained that they decided to leave out the racist comments because they didn’t fit within the story they were trying to tell.
Joe Exotic can’t sing
The country music in Tiger King is phenomenal. If you aren’t a fan of country music, you’ll be entertained by the show’s songs. While we fell in love with lyrics like “I saw tiger, and the tiger saw man” and the production value in his videos like “Here Kitty Kitty,” we couldn’t help but notice something was off.
Vanity Fair investigated Tiger King’s country music and discovered Exotic does not sing his songs. According to Exotic’s producer Rick Kirkham, “One time Joe got a little bit drunk and high, and we actually coaxed him into singing part of one of the songs. He couldn’t even hold a tune.” It became a running joke with the crew, but Exotic insisted he sings in his videos.
If you examine Tiger King’s credits, you will find that Vince Johnson & vocalist Danny Clinton are responsible for the music. Exotic might not give them credit, but at least Tiger King does.
The staff member who got their arm mauled is trans
We want to apologize to Saff Saffery. We wrote a few articles referring to Saffery as Kelci, but Saffery is trans and prefers to go by Saff and uses he/him pronouns. Robert Moor, the creator of the podcast Kate McKinnon’s scripted adaptation is based on, corrected the mistake on Twitter, but Tiger King & IMDb credits to him as Kelci.
Joe Exotic wasn’t framed
Tiger King plants the idea that Exotic might have been framed for murder for hire. According to Moor, a recorded conversation between Exotic & James Garretson that didn’t make the show but did incriminate Exotic in court.
Moor posted the conversation’s transcript to Twitter, but it’s Exotic laying out the plan to Garreston. It doesn’t confirm if the plan was Exotic’s idea but does confirm Jeff Lowe’s involvement.
The fire at the G.W. Exotic Animal Park is not the only one during filming. The fire burned down the building with the alligators and Exotic’s recording studio. Many were accused, but no one was charged.
Kirkham owned all the footage lost in the fire and was accused of setting it. Six months later, Kirkham’s Dallas home mysteriously burned down. After the fire, Kirkham & his wife fled to Norway.
Also not included in the show, Exotic & Lowe were buying the land next door to the zoo. They were going to do a bisexual strip club & petting zoo, but ultimately scrapped the idea for a drive-in theater. Lowe borrowed equipment from a man named Joe Barth and Lowe turned around and sold it. Barth filed a lawsuit, and the next day his house mysteriously burned down.