'Tiger King' Zookeeper Erik Cowie Cause of Death Revealed

Tiger King star Erik Cowie died from acute and chronic alcohol use, according to the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner. Cowie was found dead in a New York City apartment on Sept. 3. Cowie was a zookeeper who worked at Joe Exotic's Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park and was featured in Netflix's Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness. He was 53.

The medical examiner's office told TMZ Monday that Cowie's cause of death was acute and chronic alcohol use. His manner of death was described as natural. When Cowie was found face down in an apartment, a large bottle of vodka was found at the scene. Cowie was in New York to visit a friend.

Before and after Cowie worked for Exotic, he struggled with drug and alcohol addictions. He was arrested for DUI in Oklahoma after a car accident in May. He pleaded guilty but missed his sentencing and an arrest warrant was issued. Cowie was one of Exotic's longest-serving employees and he credited Exotic with saving his life by hiring him. However, the two had a falling out after Cowie testified in court that he saw Exotic shoot and kill animals.

In fact, in an interview with the Daily Mail from jail, Exotic showed no sympathy for Cowie's family. He claimed the last time they spoke was after he left his Oklahoma zoo and Jeff Lowe fired Cowie for drinking. "The next time I saw him was at my trial when he was [sitting] up there lying his a— off because he needed to kiss Jeff's a— to stay at my zoo and to be the big cat hero on Netflix," Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, said last month. "So am I shocked he is gone? No, not a bit. I put him through rehab in Ardmore Oklahoma and still [gave] him a home and a job. He had a horrible disease of alcohol."

Although Exotic claims Lowe fired Cowie, Lowe told TMZ he planned to claim Cowie's remains. He did not want Cowie's remains buried in a mass grave because he wanted a "proper sendoff" for the zookeeper. Lowe and his wife Lauren Lowe wanted a cremation ceremony at his zoo in Thackerville, Oklahoma. However, those ideas were scrapped when a relative of Cowie's claimed his remains, Lowe told TMZ on Sept. 20.


In 2019, Exotic was convicted of 17 federal charges of animal abuse and two counts for an attempted murder-for-hire plot to kill his rival, Carole Baskin. Exotic was originally sentenced to 22 years in prison, but a federal appeals court ruled that was excessive in July. He will be re-sentenced at a later date. Meanwhile, Netflix is officially developing a second season of Tiger King with filmmakers Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode. The new episodes will be released on Nov. 17.