Aaron Holliday, left, and O'Shea Jackson, Jr. star in "Cocaine Bear."

Aaron Holliday, left, and O'Shea Jackson, Jr. star in "Cocaine Bear." (Universal Pictures)

(Tribune News Service) — Thriller/comedy “Cocaine Bear” hits theaters this weekend, and although the film is fictional, it’s roughly based on the true events following the death of a Lexington man.

Andrew C. Thornton II, also known as Drew Thornton, was a narcotics officer in Lexington. He became involved in drug smuggling and fell to his death after attempting to parachute out of a small, private plane flying over Knoxville, Tenn.

Thornton had roughly $4,500 in cash, two pistols, a survival knife and several bags of cocaine in his possession when he died, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports, and federal, state and local authorities quickly flocked to the scene.

A black bear found and ingested some of the cocaine and died of an overdose, The New York Times reported in December 1985, inspiring the Elizabeth Banks-directed blockbuster.

Thornton grew up in Lexington and attended Sayre School, according to National World, a media organization based in the United Kingdom.

He enrolled in school at the University of Kentucky, but later dropped out and enlisted in the U.S. Army. Thornton joined the Lexington-Fayette Police Department in 1968 and became a member of the department’s first narcotics office. Thornton also held a law degree, but the Washington Post reported he never practiced.

Thornton smuggled the cocaine from Montería, Columbia, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports, and enlisted his Karate instructor, Bill Leonard, to join in.

In a 1990 interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel, Leonard insisted he was unaware of the smuggling plans until Thornton landed the plane in a swamp in Montería.

Leonard told the newspaper the plane was quickly surrounded by men with machine guns upon landing, and pounds of cocaine were loaded onto the aircraft. He said he heard federal authorities talking about following the plane on the radio.

The two decided to jump. Leonard went first, and his parachute opened, but Thornton wasn’t so lucky. Thornton’s body was spotted in south Knoxville in September 1985 after his parachute failed to open.

The former police officer was 40 when he died.

“Perhaps more than anyone, Thornton would have appreciated the absurdity of his death,” the Washington Post reported in 1985. “He felt smug in his survivability, his elusiveness, his discretion and his insulation. He flaunted his soldier-of-fortune ideology, his professional connections, his sky-diving exploits, his macho command of weaponry and spy gadgetry.”

Although the “Cocaine Bear” movie depicts cocaine-fueled bear attacks, the actual bear was found dead.

With a release date of Feb. 24, “Cocaine Bear” (2023) runs 1 hour and 35 minutes and is rated R.

Welsh actor Matthew Rhys stars as Thornton in the flick.

©2023 Lexington Herald-Leader.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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