Joe Exotic: Before He Was King is an intriguing documentary from ID Channel delving into the psychology behind the Tiger King’s flamboyant persona.
What is striking about this in-depth portrait of the highly publicized persona of Joseph Allen Schriebvogel (a.k.a. Joseph Maldonado-Passage) is the amount of loss that he suffered throughout his life. Growing up in Kansas on a farm, young Joe was a sensitive boy who didn’t fit in with his family.
His father, Francis was a strict disciplinarian who was overworked and stressed. This caused him to fly off the handle quite frequently and his son was the subject of his many tirades.
There wasn’t much affection for young Joe so he sought solace in tending the many animals that populated the farm. He became withdrawn and sullen. So much so that he was diagnosed with an ulcer in the fifth grade.
Life wasn’t much better for the future Tiger King in school either. He was constantly bullied and repeatedly raped by an older boy. At a very early age, this just instilled in him the idea that people can’t be trusted.
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When he came out to his family at 16, it wasn’t received very well and most of them turned their backs on him but not his brother, Garold. The two were inseparable.
The Schriebvogels moved around quite frequently. By the time, Joe was 19, he was residing in Eastvale, Texas. It was there that he decided to go into law enforcement becoming the Chief of Police at that tender age.
After five years, he quit and his life took another turn for the worse, as he tried to commit suicide. For therapy to heal, he worked for a bit at a wildlife park. It was during that time period that his passion for exotic animals took flight.
As a result, he and his brother Garold became business partners and they worked together at an exotic pet store. It seemed as if Joe was starting to get his life together but then that illusion came tumbling down when his beloved brother was killed in a tragic accident.
Alone once again, Joe left the pet store and convinced his parents to help him purchase a zoo as a tribute to Garold. That was the birth of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park (G.W. Zoo).
While Joe was making a name for his zoo, another gigantic loss occurred when his second husband succumbed to AIDS. Trying to numb the pain, he started diving into his work, touring across the country with a live exotic animal show. It was during this time period that he became “Joe Exotic.”
It was also the beginning of the downward spiral for him. Drugs, a polyamorous lifestyle and erratic behavior were just par for the course. His third husband, a young and handsome guy named Travis Maldonado, accidentally shot himself while pulling a stunt with a handgun.
Finally, his life went completely off the rails. Culminating in a botched murder for hire scene and a prison sentence.
Joe Exotic: Before He Was King is a fascinating psychological portrait of one man’s descent into madness. If only he could have been placed into therapy after his suicide attempt, maybe his life would have gone in another direction.
This ID Channel documentary is almost Shakespearean in nature. The mighty King sitting atop his throne while all around him there are treacherous people disguised as friends, a man and woman conspiring to overthrow his kingdom and finally, a broken man who has lost everything.
If you enjoyed Tigers, Lies and Cover-Up, then definitely tune into this prequel.
Joe Exotic: Before He Was King airs tonight on ID Channel at 10 p.m.
What did you think of the Joe Exotic specials on ID Channel? Let us know in the comments.