Investigation Discovery is diving into how Joseph Maldonado-Passage became Joe Exotic, revealing new information about the Tiger King star's traumatic childhood and troubled past in Joe Exotic: Before He Was King, premiering Monday, Sept. 28 on Investigation Discovery immediately following the 9 p.m. ET finale of Joe Exotic: Tigers, Lies and Cover-Up.
One of the people looking into the story behind the salacious Netflix docuseries is Derrick Levasseur, former police officer and Big Brother Season 16 winner, who spoke to PopCulture.com ahead of Before He Was King's premiere about what he thinks is the "substance" and the "why" behind the flashy persona based on a deep look into Exotic's life.
Before he became a big cat enthusiast, Exotic grew up in what he has described as a loveless home, suffering sexual abuse at a young age and emotional abuse after his father found out he was gay. Before He Was King dives deep into the former zoo owner's past in his own words, including his time as a police officer, but Levasseur wants to remind people there is no excuse for the murder-for-hire plot and animal abuse of which Exotic was convicted.
"At the end of the day, yes, there are things that led to Joe Exotic becoming who he is," Levasseur explains. "You can't help but feel bad for him for some of the things he's experienced, and there are people who say, 'I don't care what he's experienced, it doesn’t give him an excuse for what he did. ...My lens is very simple. You either committed a crime, or you didn't."
Calling Exotic a "criminal opportunist" and a "narcissist," Levasseur says even Exotic's accusations that Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin killed husband Don Lewis were based not in a desire for "justice," but in distracting Baskin from interfering with his operations. That, plus the alleged drug use on Exotic's property, are all things that should be taken into consideration when examining how his past aligns with the present. "I don't see how you watch the Netflix special and Joe Exotic: Before He Was King and say, 'Oh, drugs weren't involved there,'" Levasseur tells PopCulture.
The former law enforcement officer cautions people fascinated by Tiger King not to "idolize" the man, who has become the subject of jokes, memes and petitions for release. "I think for the most part [the legal system] has kind of worked the way it should," he told PopCulture of Exotic's 22-year sentence in federal prison. "He's in prison for a long time — I think that's an appropriate sentence for what he's charged with." In a few years, Levasseur comments he thinks Exotic will be as "trendy" as some other pop culture flashes in the pan, comparing his popularity to wearing one's pants backwards in the '90s.
Joe Exotic: Before He Was King premieres Monday, September 28 at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery. Joe Exotic: Before He Was King is produced for ID by Wrigley Media Group with Ross Babbit, Danny Tepper & JD Thompson. For Investigation Discovery, Liz Massie is Executive Producer, Sara Kozak is Senior Vice President of Production, Kevin Bennett is General Manager, and Henry Schleiff is Group President of Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, American Heroes Channel and Destination America.