Erik Cowie, one of the zookeepers who featured in Netflix documentary Tiger King, died on 3rd September aged 53, NBC’s New York affiliate confirmed.
The cause of death has not yet been released after he was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment bedroom at 5:30pm local time, according to NBC News 4 New York.
Cowie was Head Keeper at Joe Exotic‘s infamous G.W. Exotic Animal Zoo in Wynnewood, where he worked for five years. Exotic is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for a murder-for-hire plot and multiple animal abuse charges.
The eccentric big cat owner’s story gripped the world when Netflix’s hit documentary Tiger King landed just as the first UK lockdown came into place. The global success of the docu-series spawned an after show, a second Louis Theroux Tiger King documentary, an upcoming NBC dramatisation and, at one point, plans for an Amazon series with Nicolas Cage starring as Exotic.
Though the latter has been shelved, Netflix confirmed in August 2021 that a second season is indeed in the works. In the the streamer’s The Tiger King and I, Cowie revealed he hadn’t watched the first series and expressed regret at working with Exotic in the first place.
“It’s been in the back of my head,” he told host Joel McHale. “I think about it a lot – a lot of times when we put cats down, they used me because just my appearance or my voice [meant] I could get a cat up the side of the cage where we can dart it and tranquilise it.
“Those cats trusted me up until the end. Sometimes, I swear they’re like ‘Dude you let me down.’”
After being asked if he thinks Exotic should be released from prison, Cowie was adamant he shouldn’t.
“No. Not no, but f*** no,” he said. “Twenty-two years doing federal time – that guy’s gonna die in there. Good riddance.”