Tiger King star Erik Cowie, who rose to fame as a zookeeper on the hit Netflix series, was found dead while face down in a bed inside a Brooklyn apartment on Friday evening.
NYPD told Dailymail.com that ‘police responded to a 911 call of a unconscious male inside 21 East 55th Street’ near Remsen Avenue in East Flatbush at 5.30pm on September 3.
EMS pronounced Cowie dead at the scene but NYPD have not confirmed his identity.
According to police and the Medical Examiner has yet to determine the cause of death.
The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park announced the news on Tuesday afternoon. ‘It comes with great sadness to say that a dear friend and hard working employee has passed away,’ the business said in a Facebook post.
‘He absolutely loved all the animals and would show up early to check on each and everyone. He had his Demons but the animals helped bring joy and happiness in his life,’ the post read.
It’s unclear why the 52-year-old TV veteran was in the Big Apple as he usually resides in Oklahoma.
Gone too soon: Tiger King star Erik Cowie was found dead while face down in a bed inside a residence in Brooklyn on Friday evening
Cowie was discovered around 5.30pm in a residence located on East 155th Street near Remsen Avenue in East Flatbush
TMZ added that there was ‘nothing suspicious about the death’.
No foul play was suspected and ‘no drugs were found on the scene’.
A report suggested the zookeeper’s death was most likely from ‘natural causes’ but an autopsy and toxicology test will still be performed.
Joe Exotic suspected Cowie succumbed to drugs and alcohol after he admitted to having an ongoing drinking problem, according to an Instagram post by the incarcerated ex-zoo owner.
In May 2021 Cowie was arrested for a DUI in Oklahoma after being involved in a car accident.
Cat person: Cowie became famous for starring with Joe Exotic on the Netflix show from 2020
He pleaded guilty and was set to be sentenced sometime after but failed to show up for his hearing.
But when Tiger King fans suspected his jagged teeth were due to meth use he denied the rumor and said his poor choppers were just from old age.
He was gifted dental implants in July of last year from fellow Tiger King star Jeff Lowe – the man who took the zoo over from Joe and became one of the the now-incarcerated zookeeper’s enemies.
A Reddit thread showed fans’ concerns over Cowie’s addiction problems, citing ‘heavily slurred words,’ an alleged lack of coordination and ‘handles of vodka in the back of each (interview) shot’ as means for concern.
Many users predicted Cowie used alcohol to cope with the drama that often ensued at the zoo.
Cowie previously said that he was ‘at the end of (his) rope’ with his alcoholism before finding Joe and playing a key role in taking care of the tigers.
He first learned about the job opening at Joe’s zoo via Craigslist and gained instant fame as one of the main animal caretakers.
Before his sudden demise Cowie was often cited as head guardian of the big cats. The tigers under Cowie’s watch included Delilah, Samson, Trinity and Cuddles.
Past problems: In the past Cowie had admitted to having a drinking problem, saying that he was ‘at the end of [his] rope’ with alcoholism before meeting Joe
Animal instincts: Erik worked as an animal caretaker who looked after several big cats. He had been at the zoo for many years and even stayed on after Joe was incarcerated
In a Tiger King reunion special that debuted on Netflix last year Cowie told comedian and host Joel McHale that his old boss should never be released from prison
He worked at the zoo for more than five years and even stayed after Joe was incarcerated despite his rocky relationship with his boss.
Cowie testified against Joe for abusing and killing some of his zoo animals. In 2017 when five tigers were reported dead, he told police he ‘knew cats were getting shot’.
In an Instagram tribute Joe claimed he ‘did everything I could to help him and save him from himself and he turned on me for fame’.
‘RIP Erik. I will be making a donation in his name to a drug and alcohol treatment center,’ Joe wrote before characteristically blaming his nemeses Agent Bryant and Carole Baskin for ‘setting all this up to start with’.
With the help of Cowie’s testimony, Joe Exotic – whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage – is serving a 22-year prison sentence in Fort Worth, Texas, for attempting to hire hitmen to kill his business rival Carole Baskin.
Since his arrest the 58-year-old said that he has not received any treatment for his prostate cancer in months and revealed the cancer may have spread to his pelvis and stomach.
The former zoo owner said he prefers to die if it is stage three or four as he criticized the US criminal justice system over lack of medical treatment for prisoners.
The Netflix star has been denied release from prison on many occasions.
Most recently in September 2020, he wrote former President Trump a letter pleading for an early release from prison while his representatives spent around $10,000 at Trump’s Washington, DC, hotel in a bid to help his cause.
Earlier in the year Trump said he would consider issuing a pardon for Maldonado-Passage, after his son Donald Trump Jr brought the case to him.
‘I’ll take a look,’ he told reporters in April.
In an Instagram post Joe Exotic, 58, claimed drugs and alcohol led to the zookeeper’s death
Behind bars: Exotic – real name Joseph Maldonado-Passage – is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for attempting to hire someone to kill rival Carole Baskin
Since his arrest the 58-year-old said that he has not received any treatment for his prostate cancer in months and revealed the cancer may have spread to his pelvis and stomach
An impatient Joe even reached out to reality TV star Kim Kardashian West in November begging for her to call the president.
‘I am writing you this letter not as Joe Exotic but as the person Joseph Maldonado-Passage, asking you to please help me by just taking 10 minutes out of your life and placing a call to President Trump to look at my 257 page pardon,’ he wrote in the letter.
‘I know you have never met me and may never want to however I do believe that you hold the values of our justice system dear to your heart,’ Joe added.
In a Tiger King reunion special that debuted on Netflix last year Cowie told comedian and host Joel McHale that his old boss should never be released from prison.
‘He’s going to die in there. So good riddance,’ he said.
Meanwhile, in June of last year Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue was awarded control over Joe’s zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, as part of the $1million settlement in her long-standing trademark lawsuit against Joe.
The lawsuit was filed in 2011 – nine years before Tiger King became the No 1 show on Netflix and catapulted Exotic and Baskin to a unique kind of stardom.
Baskin, the animal activist and Dancing With The Stars alum, then sold the Oklahoma property where Joe’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park once stood for a mere $140,000.
The sale also came with one huge stipulation: The new owners are prohibited from using the property ‘to house exotic animals of any kind — or as a zoo, wildlife park or menagerie’ for the next 100 years, according to TMZ.
Sweet revenge: In June, animal activist/Dancing With The Stars alum Baskin sold the Oklahoma property where Exotic’s Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park once stood. It fetched a mere $140,000