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Louis Theroux says he had ‘no idea’ of Joe Exotic’s murder-for-hire case and simply thought he was ‘pretty weird’

Theroux first met Joe in 2011, when he filmed the BBC Documentary series 'America's Most Dangerous Pets,' and spent a week or so with the cat breeder
Joe Exotic (Netflix)
Joe Exotic (Netflix)

Everyone, literally everyone, is talking about the 'Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness' documentary that has spotlighted the long-running rivalry between zoo-owner Joe Exotic and animal activist Carole Baskin. But what most people tend to forget is that this isn't Joe's first rodeo when it comes to starring in a documentary. In 2011, Joe also appeared in British filmmaker, Louis Theroux's 2011 BBC documentary series, 'America's Most Dangerous Pets.'

Theroux's BBC series saw him travel to various parts of the US, where he met up with people who owned zoos and sanctuaries housing exotic animals like lions, tigers, bears, and chimpanzees. So when you're you're looking at America's exotic animal owners, it's hard to simply walk past Joe Exotic.

Theroux shared his thoughts about the big cat breeder, saying that even while he filmed his documentary nine years ago, he found it "hard to dislike" Joe. Additionally, he divulged that even back then, Joe's animosity against his arch-nemesis, Carole Baskin, the CEO of Big Cat Rescue, kept him preoccupied. 

Joe, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, is currently incarcerated and serving a 22-year sentence. In 2019, the 57-year-old was convicted for 17 counts of animal abuse and two counts of murder-for-hire, for plotting to kill Baskin. He was busted when he tried to hire a hitman to carry out the murder, not knowing that it was, in fact, an FBI agent undercover. 

'Tiger King', which released on Netflix in March, is a true-crime documentary miniseries that explores the life of Joe exotic, a zookeeper. His feud with Carole Baskin, an animal activist and CEO of a non-profit, Big Cat Rescue, also forms a major part of the series. Joe conjures theories surrounding the disappearance of her first husband in 1997, Don Lewis and makes a baseless accusation against Baskin suggesting that she may have murdered him by feeding him to the tigers.

Carole Baskin in 'Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness' (Netflix)

Joe, who contested in the 2016 presidential elections and also ran for Oklahoma Governor in 2018, is seen even the series condemning his nemesis saying she is behind the mysterious disappearance of her husband. He even read out an excerpt from her diary to convince the audience watching the series that Baskin was indeed guilty of her husband's murder.

Joe and Baskin have been beefing for a while ever since she called him out for allegedly mistreating hundreds of lions and tigers in his Oklahoma Zoo. And these allegations are not entirely unfounded. In 2006 PETA discretely retrieved footage from Joe's GW Zoo, where the video showed animals getting kicked, deprived of food and blasted with hoses and fire extinguishers. 

When this investigation surfaced, the US Department of Agriculture put Joe on 18 months probation and ordered him to pay $25,000 in fine for almost 200 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

A user on  Twitter, who watched Theroux's documentary in light of the new Netflix documentary said, "Whilst he didn't expose nearly as much as the Netflix 'Tiger King', he does get Joe to say 'I'd euthanize all of the animals' on camera. Louis doesn't necessarily 'investigate' so forensically." Theroux's documentary and the Netflix series also focused on the zookeeper's flubbed love life as him engaging in polygamous relationships. Theroux even claimed that at the time of filming his documentary, Joe was involved with a third person in his domestic arrangement.

A still from 'Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness' (Netflix)

As a concluding statement, Theroux penned down in his The Sunday Times column about his encounter with Joe Exotic. He said that he had absolutely "no idea" of Joe's involvement in a murder-for-hire case. He didn't imagine that the cat breeder would be capable of such madness and only thought of him as being "pretty weird."

"As awful as the practice [of breeding cubs for hands-on experiences like photos and petting] is, and despite the many compromises and cruelties entailed in Joe’s running of the GW zoo, it was hard to dislike the man himself, maybe because he seemed neither to be hiding many of his misdeeds nor to take himself too seriously, not to mention that his emotional volatility - laughter, tears, kindness, paranoia, all in quick succession - inclined me to be a little protective of him," said the 49-year-old filmmaker. 

"I warmed to him, and his ridiculousness was endearing rather than annoying," he added.

He went on to explain that Joe was just as obsessed with Baskin, as he seemed to be in the Netflix series when filming his 2011 documentary.

"Joe’s grudge against Carole preoccupied him when we filmed. He would rant about her, mentioning his belief that she’d had one of her husbands killed," Theroux also mentioned in his column. 

On April 4, Joe spoke to Netflix while imprisoned in an official interview since the documentary aired. He told the streaming giant that he was "done with the Carole Baskin saga", and that he was going to amend his ways, turning his focus on clearing his name and getting out of prison. "I'm done with the Carole Baskin saga," he said in the interview with Netflix. "It's now time to turn the tables and Joe gets out of jail a free man and exonerated from all these charges." 

Joe's fourth husband, Don Passage, also revealed that Joe is being held in isolation at the Grady County Jail, in Oklahoma, because the jail he was previously imprisoned in had COVID-19 cases.