'Tiger King' Zookeeper Erik Cowie Reportedly Dead at 53

Tiger King star Erik Cowie passed away last week, and authorities are still trying to determine how. Law enforcement sources told TMZ that Cowie was found dead by a friend in an apartment in New York City on Friday. There are still many unanswered questions about the circumstances, including what Cowie was doing in NYC.

Cowie was one of the most prominent zookeepers featured in the Netflix original series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness last year. He has reportedly continued to live and work in Oklahoma since then, so it is not clear why the 53-year-old ended up in New York City, though he was fleeing arrest out west. Police did not specify whether he was found in a home of his own there or that of someone else. They did say that there is nothing suspicious about Cowie's death, and that no drugs were found on the scene. A toxicology test will be performed.

Cowie did several interviews for Tiger King and his input was frequently used throughout the eight-part miniseries. He was considered one of the most experienced handlers of the large cats in The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, and he kept his job there even after Joe Exotic went to prison.

Cowie also had an emotional arc of his own near the end of the docu-series where he traveled to Florida to testify against Joe Exotic, saying that he'd seen his boss order some of the animals shot and killed over the years. This contributed to Exotic's convictions for animal abuse in 2019, but not the two counts of attempted murder for hire.

In the docu-series, Cowie praised Exotic for taking in him and other people like him to work at the "G.W. Zoo" when they had trouble fitting in elsewhere in society. He said that he was "at the end of my rope" when he began working for Exotic, referencing a history of alcoholism. However, in a later interview with TMZ, he denied the widespread speculation that he had been a drug user, despite the frank internet comments about his appearance.


Cowie was arrested for driving under the influence in Oklahoma early in 2021, following a car crash. He reportedly skipped his court date for that case and has been wanted in Oklahoma ever since, possibly explaining why he was not at home. Fans are sharing their well wishes for Cowie and his family on social media.