A new Netflix documentary dives deep into the life of former Oklahoma zookeeper Joe Exotic — including his romantic history and penchant for polyamorous relationships and marriages to much younger men.
Exotic was born Joseph Schreibvogel but later took the name Joseph Maldonado-Passage (he's gone by several names over the years), incorporating the last names of two of his husbands: Travis Maldonado and Dillon Passage. His relationships are documented in the series "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness." The portrait of Exotic's marital life is fleshed out through interviews with one of his former husbands, John Finlay, in the docu-series.
Finlay first met Exotic about a month out of high school and he was with him for more than a decade – from 2003 to 2014, he says in the first episode. Exotic even got Finlay to get a tattoo above his groin reading "Private Property of Joe Exotic" during the pair's relationship, New York Magazine reported in 2019.
Exotic met Maldonado, then 19, in 2013. Exotic was in his 50s at the time, according to Texas Monthly in 2019. The docu-series showcases a 2014 marriage ceremony featuring all three – Finlay, Maldonado and Exotic – in the second episode. However, the ceremony wasn't official, according to Texas Monthly. Online court records do not indicate that Exotic ever legally married Finlay.
State court records reviewed by Oxygen.com indicate that Maldonado and Exotic received a marriage license in 2015.
Finlay would eventually leave Exotic later in 2014 while Exotic's marriage to Maldonado met a tragic end in 2017, Texas Monthly reported.
However both of the relationships appear to have been built on rocky ground from the start, with Finlay revealing to series producers that he's actually straight; other interviewees told the filmmakers that Maldonado wasn't gay either.
"All through school I was dating girls," Finlay told the documentary.
A number of people interviewed in the series said that Finlay was sleeping with a female park employee while he was married to Exotic.
"John Finlay came out and said 'Look I got to tell you, I'm really not gay, I've been sleeping with the girl at the front desk,'" said Rick Kirkham, a reality TV producer who worked on Joe Exotic's online show.
Finlay later got the woman pregnant and left Exotic, the series explains.
"He left me for a girl," Exotic tells the filmmakers. "I can't compete with that."
Maldonado, too, was actually straight, Kirkham said.
"I told Joe at least three times that Travis was not gay, okay? Travis was banging every girl in the park," Kirkham told the filmmakers.
Josh Dial, Exotic's former campaign manager during a failed run for Oklahoma governor in 2018, said that Maldonado suffered from drug addiction, which fueled his dependency on Exotic.
"There are people out there who will look at a person who is in desperate, dire need of something," Dial told the documentary. "In Travis' case, he was addicted to meth — and they take that need and they fulfill it, until they become the only person who can fulfill that need."
Exotic's later relationship with Passage appears more genuine in the series however, although, like Finlay and Maldonado, Passage was much younger than Exotic when the pair met.
Passage and Exotic were issued an official marriage license in December 2017, according to Tulsa World. Notice of the marriage between the two was filed in the local newspaper the Pauls Valley Democrat.
So what happened to all the men featured in the documentary?
Finlay participates extensively in the documentary and speaks somewhat warmly of Exotic early on, though he appears to have put his time with Exotic behind him. He even covers up the tattoo reading "Private Property of Joe Exotic" in the final episode of the series.
When asked by the tattoo artist who Exotic is, Finlay replied "he's a nobody now ... won't even be a memory."
What the docu-series doesn't dwell on is how Finlay came to leave Exotic and the zoo. In 2014, Finlay allegedly attacked Exotic in the zoo's parking lot and was charged with assault, according to Texas Monthly.
However, Garvin County Sheriff Jim Mullett told Oxygen.com that his office has no record of Finlay being charged with assault at that time. Exotic did file for an order of protection against Finlay in October 2014, however, though it was later dismissed following a hearing, online court records indicated. A misdemeanor charge of assault and battery against Finlay had been dismissed earlier in 2014.
Finlay still lives in Oklahoma area, according to his Facebook page. He did not immediately return a request for comment from Oxygen.com.
He had a child with the woman he left Exotic for, according to New York Magazine. He's currently engaged to be married to a different woman, according to his Facebook.
Finlay was working as a welder and lived in a Motel 6 as of last year, according to the 2019 profile of Joe Exotic from Texas Monthly.
“This is going to be the beginning of my life without him in it,” he told Texas Monthly then.
Maldonado ended up accidentally killing himself in 2017 during a conversation with Joshua Dial, Exotic's political campaign manager. Maldonado was apparently attempting to to demonstrate that his pistol would not fire if the ammunition clip had been removed. It did.
"I was sitting in a chair looking at him when he put a gun to his head," Dial said. "It's not like on the movies. ... I knew he was dead the second he pulled the trigger, but at the same time I didn't. I thought it was a joke."
Local police also concluded it was an accident at the time, Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes told the Oklahoman in 2017. Maldonado knew there was a bullet in the chamber of the gun, but believed it would not fire when he pulled the trigger because he had removed the clip, Rhodes told the outlet.
"I don't know, I don't know what happened," Travis's mother Cheryl Maldonado told the filmmakers. "I don't know how he ended up with Joe."
Maldonado was 23 years old at the time of his death.
Passage is introduced later in the series, appearing with Exotic during his doomed campaign for governor of Oklahoma in 2017. It's also noted in the series that Exotic married Passage only two months after Maldonado accidentally killed himself.
"His energy is just so strong, and when he proposed to me it was just something I couldn't think about," Passage told the filmmakers.
Travis' mother Cheryl noted that Exotic invited her to his wedding with Passage, then never spoke with her again.
Exotic later became the focus of a federal investigation for attempting to solicit the murder of an animal rights activist named Carole Baskin, with whom he was embroiled in a long-running legal feud. He and Passage fled to Gulf Breeze, Florida, which Exotic tried to present on his social media feeds as Belize, according to New York Magazine in 2019. This is where the former zookeeper was ultimately apprehended by authorities.
Passage's current whereabouts are unclear, though he was still married to Exotic as of 2019, according to the Daily Beast.
Exotic is currently in federal custody and awaiting transfer to a prison to serve his 22-year sentence after being convicted on multiple counts, including two counts of murder-for-hire.
"Tiger King" is available to stream on Netflix.
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