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‘Tiger King’ Joe Exotic Says He’s ‘Ashamed’ of Himself in an Interview From Prison
It’s not surprising that Netflix documentary series Tiger King has become a sensation. The Verge reports that daytime streaming service viewing increased by 40 percent between March 9 and March 23, as billions of people began living under lockdowns designed to stall the spread of the coronavirus. The seven-part series was released on March 20, and its stories of “murder, madness, and mayhem” in the world of big cat fanatics has remained in Netflix’s Top 10 ranking ever since. And on Friday, the streaming service posted to social media an interview with Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, the now-imprisoned former zookeeper who’s one of the series’ main subjects.
He answered a few questions via video link. A former magician and country music’s answer to Milli Vanilli, Tiger King co-director Eric Goode has described Maldonado-Passage as being prone to letting “narcissism and ego get the better of him.” Unsurprisingly, he seemed pleased with his newfound fame. “It would be nice if I could actually see me being famous out there,” said Maldonado-Passage, “but I’ve seen these same four walls for a year and a half now.”
Maldonado-Passage is serving a 22-year prison sentence for charges including attempting to hire hitmen to kill his rival, big cat sanctuary owner Carole Baskin. He was also convicted of killing five tigers, and in the interview expressed regret for his treatment of animals—while claiming to be innocent of crimes for which he was convicted. “Go sit in a cage with your animal for a week,” he said. “When I left the zoo and I sent my chimpanzees to the sanctuary in Florida and imagined what my chimpanzees went through for 18 years, I’m ashamed of myself.”
The interview was recorded on March 22, and Maldonado-Passage has subsequently been placed in isolation amid Covid-19 concerns.
Maldonado-Passage, who filed a $94 million civil rights lawsuit alleging that he’s been falsely imprisoned, claimed to be “done with the Carole Baskin saga,” and said that he’s seeking to be “exonerated from all these charges.” He’ll be eligible for parole in 2034.
Gabrielle Bruney is a writer and editor for Esquire, where she focuses on politics and culture.