Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably already binged Netflix’s new docuseries, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. I mean, come on, what else is there to do? From beginning to end, Tiger King is a wild ride that documents the life of lion and tiger conservationist Joe Exotic, along with other interconnected conservationists like Bhagavan "Doc" Antle and Carole Baskin.
Throughout the seven-part series, Baskin and Exotic are at odds, (spoiler alerts ahead) as Baskin alleges abusive, inhumane and negligent conditions of the cats held in Exotic’s care at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma. Baskin’s animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue files a lawsuit against Exotic after he holds cat shows using a knockoff Big Cat Rescue logo. Baskin wins a $1 million settlement, and Exotic is later convicted of attempting to hire someone to murder Baskin in retaliation. In January 2020, he was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
While Tiger King seemed to resonate with nearly everyone who binge-watched it, Dallasites are finding unique connections to Exotic and the docuseries. In Tiger King’s final episode, viewers can see a picture of a younger Exotic at what appears to be The Round Up Saloon, an established gay bar in Dallas. It is thought that Exotic worked at The Round Up in the late ’80s to early ’90s.
“None of us can really remember this guy,” says Alan Pierce, one of The Round Up’s owners. “Gary [Miller] and I have owned the Round Up since 1998, so we’re guessing it was in the pre-firing days. I don’t have Netflix, so I haven’t actually seen the docuseries yet.”
Although the current Round Up staff didn’t provide much information regarding Exotic, many Dallas residents have claimed to have had encounters with him.
Among other events, Exotic’s polyamorous marriage to John Finlay and Travis Maldonado has kept viewers transfixed. And he was looking for more husbands to join in on the fun, as Chris Moore, a Dallas resident, alleges. Moore says that, many years ago, Exotic asked him to move into his home.
Moore heard of Greater Wynnewood Animal Park through a friend and decided to take a trip up there one day. He claims he met Exotic shortly after the death of Maldonado.
“He started the conversation by asking what I did here in Texas,” Moore says, “then asked if I would be interested in working for him up in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and if I was interested, he would find me a place to stay.”
Moore says he didn’t sense anything off about Exotic, however, he was not in a position to accept the offer.
“What stopped me from saying yes was probably that I would’ve had to move to Oklahoma, and I would’ve been taking a pay cut from the job I had at the time," Moore says. "I definitely would have said yes if at least one of those factors could’ve been eliminated.”
Also vouching for Exotic is porn actress Rachel Starr, who can very briefly be seen in the second episode of Tiger King.
Starr first met Exotic about eight years ago, when a mutual colleague of theirs asked her to do a photo shoot with him in Wynnewood. She says she hit it off with Exotic within the first 10 minutes of meeting him. She later visited him “numerous times a year over many years of knowing him.” Starr herself is not a fan of Tiger King and calls it “a skewed version of the truth.”
“The animals were fully taken care of, above and beyond,” Starr says. “Very clean cages, quality food and lots of attention was given to them many times daily. I highly disagree with how the documentary portrays GW Zoo and the [condition of the] animals.”
Since the documentary’s release on Netflix, many viewers have theorized that Carole Baskin murdered her husband Donald Lewis, and public interest is so acute that the 1997 case is reportedly being reopened. While none of the parties interviewed expressed whether they believed that Baskin actually killed her husband, both Moore and Starr had nothing but positive things to say about Exotic.
Starr claims to have seen exchanges between Exotic and Baskin and recalls feeling “horrified” at the way Baskin acted toward him. She says she advised him not to exact revenge.
“Unfortunately, he didn’t listen and was consumed with his following on social media growing and going viral with high view count,” Starr says. “I believe it influenced his behavior greatly to ‘create shocking content’ in the name of high views, which later was used against him in court. I don’t believe on any level that Joe was capable of murder for hire, but those videos he filmed damn sure didn’t help sway the jury to think otherwise.
“This saddens me deeply, as he is one of the few people in entertainment I became very close friends with. ... I’m blessed to have him as a friend.”