As millions of quarantined Americans have tuned into Netflix’s crazy docu-series Tiger King, they’ve learned the names of several eccentric, controversial figures. Among them are Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, née Schreibvogel, aka Joe Exotic—who owned the G.W. Exotic Animal Park—and Bhagavan “Doc” Antle. Both of these men seem about as eccentric—and insidious—as they come. Antle, who has protested his portrayal in the series, owns South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach Safari, where the docu-series claims he controls his multiple wives’ lives down to the way they dress. Joe Exotic, meanwhile, was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison on two counts of murder-for-hire as well as 17 other crimes.
But even before these two became household names, they enjoyed a fair amount of notoriety—and proximity to celebrities. Antle, for instance, was on-hand for Britney Spears’ performance at MTV’s 2001 Video Music Awards, where the pop singer danced with a snake in front of a tiger. As Tiger King itself notes, Antle also appeared on several late-night shows and worked as a crew member on multiple studio films—including Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Disney’s Mighty Joe Young. (Per IMDb, Antle also held an uncredited on-screen role in the latter film—“Party Guest Grabbed By Joe.” When I rented the film for this story, however, he did not appear to be anywhere in sight.) And that’s not even mentioning the laundry list of celebrities, Olympians, influencers, and other A-listers who have visited the Safari. Joe Exotic, meanwhile, appears to have made fewer inroads with Hollywood clientele—but he did have a few visitors, including Shaquille O’Neal and Dan Haggerty.
Doc Antle’s Myrtle Beach Safari CELEBRITY GUESTS
Of all the guests Antle’s zoo—or any zoo, really—has attracted, Beyoncé is probably the biggest. Music producer James Thompson paid a visit to play violin with a chimp. Rapper ReeMarkable—daughter of the late N.W.A. member Eazy-E—has posed with one of Antle’s elephants. Kevin Gates also visited one of the zoo’s night safaris, and met a baby chimp. And “Panda” rapper Desiigner also posed with two of the zoo’s tigers as part of its #SaveTheTigersSaveTheWorld campaign, as did Casanova.
And then there are the influencers. First up: the infamous Logan Paul, who posted a photo of himself hugging a tiger at the zoo seven weeks ago. Paul, like Desiigner and others, appears to have been participating in an organized campaign from the Safari, which posted a video of the YouTuber with a cheetah using the slogan #SaveTheCheetahSaveTheWorld. Paul also did a tiger-centric video co-starring Doc’s son Kody Antle.
Make-up artist Jenna Nicole, who has more than 100,000 followers on Instagram, also posted a photo of herself rubbing noses with a baby tiger, writing, “I never post pics of myself but I could not resist these little guys. Save the tigers.” And Instagram model-slash-social-media-star Jena Frumes has also posted several photos of herself with various Myrtle Beach Safari animals.
Another famous guest? Celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern, who posed with a few of the zoo’s animals.
JOE EXOTIC’S G.W. ZOO CELEBRITY GUESTS
Shaq is by far G.W.’s most notable guest, as Tiger King itself notes. After the docu-series’ release, the basketball star has clarified his relationship with the zoo on his podcast. “So we go in there, and it’s a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe,” O’Neal said. “We’re there and I dropped some donations for the tigers’ foods and all that. We take pictures with [the] tigers. We went back a couple times... Then we go back another time and we found out that he’s involved with all the stuff, and then, actually, I stopped going.”
Dazed and Confused actor Jason London also paid G.W. a visit—which, like everything else, the zoo documented on its YouTube channel in 2014.
The late actor Dan Haggerty, best known for having played Grizzly Adams, also stopped by at one point and even spoke to park guests. “It’s not often that you get to go to a wildlife park and get to touch and see the animals like Joe’s put together here; this is really an honor,” he said. “I got to kiss a camel and when I got home, the camel left me a message: Come on back, big boy.” Days later, the zoo posted a second video of Haggerty singing its praises. A few months after that, G.W. named a bear cub after the actor.