Erik Cowie — who became famous after starring on Netflix's Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness — has died at the age of 53.
The zookeeper, who worked under Joseph "Joe Exotic" Maldonado, was reportedly found laying face down in a New York city apartment on Friday, September 3, where he was discovered by one of his friends. It is unclear whether the apartment belonged to Cowie, who is from Oklahoma, or if he was visiting a friend’s place.
According to TMZ, there was nothing suspicious about the circumstances surrounding the death, and no drugs were found at the scene — but the outlet’s sources claim a toxicology test will likely be performed.
While he has admitted to having a drinking problem in the past, he denied rumors that he was a meth addict, despite fan’s comments about his teeth.
Cowie was known for his appearance on the hit Netflix show which premiered in March 2020, where he served as one of Maldonado’s most trusted animal caretakers.
He continued working at the zoo even after Maldonado was arrested in June 2018, on various accounts of animal abuse, as well as hiring hitmen to kill animal cruelty activist Carole Baskin.
Cowie’s relationship with Maldonado took a turn for the worst after he testified against the Tiger King in court, insisting that he had witnessed his orders of executions of multiple zoo animals.
Cowie also told DailyMailTV that he witnessed over 100 tigers put to death by the TV personality, and claimed that the animals actually didn’t like Maldonado.
“Joe only cared about them in a monetary way,” Cowie said of the animals. He even pointed to one cat in particular who “would try to chew through the cage to get at him.”
“I learned a lot from Joe, mostly on what not to do,” he said.
He also explained that Maldonado would abuse the big cats as well, including hitting them when they acted out.
“For one reason or another, a cub would become so unruly so Joe would take the baby cub out of view of the people at the zoo and pop the cub in the nose and bring it back out,” he said. “I then had to deal with a baby cub who had just been popped in the nose and then make sure it wouldn’t act up and bite some older women or child.”
He also opened up about his role in the abuse, wishing that he did more to defend the animals. “These animals trusted me and I let some of them down, for that I’ll never forget,” he explained.
“I love these animals dude. I’d sooner put myself under a bus than leave these animals. These animals are my children. They are the only reason why I’m out here," Cowie admitted. "I’m just a guy who picks up poop with his hands and I’m good at cutting up cows to feed the tigers.”
Maldonado was sentenced in January 2020, where he received 22 years in federal prison.
Cowie was arrested earlier this year for a DUI, to which he pleaded guilty. After he did show up to his court date, an arrest warrant was issued in May.