Zookeeper Erik Cowie, who was featured in the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King, has died at the age of 52.
Cowie was found dead in an apartment in Brooklyn on Friday, NBC News 4 New York reports. He was unconscious when first responders arrived on scene; no cause of death has yet been released.
Cowie was one of the zookeepers who tended to the exotic animals at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma, formerly owned by “Joe Exotic,” aka Joe Maldonado-Passage. Cowie was interviewed extensively about the zoo and Joe Exotic in the seven-episode Netflix doc Tiger King, which debuted in March 2020 and became a pop-culture sensation. According to Nielsen, 34.3 million viewers watched Tiger King during its first 10 days of release.
The head keeper at Joe Exotic’s zoo for five years, Cowie later testified against his former boss at trial, alleging that older tigers were shot and killed at the zoo. Cowie also made an appearance on the Tiger King reunion special hosted by Joel McHale.
The Tiger King phenomenon led to a wave of TV adaptations, but those have begun to peter out: A planned Amazon series starring Nicolas Cage as Joe Exotic is not moving forward. Peacock, though, is still developing a scripted series starring John Cameron Mitchell as Joe Exotic and Kate McKinnon as his hated rival Carole Baskin.