Rick Kirkham Opens Up About What Happened With Joe Exotic at ‘That Damn Zoo’


Rick Kirkham is opening up about what it was like to work with Joe Exotic at what he called “that damn zoo.” In a new Investigation Discovery documentary, the former television journalist talks about his experience at the GW Zoo and how it felt to be at the center of the Tiger King storm. 

“This whole Tiger King thing just came out of nowhere,” he says in “The Truth Behind Joe Exotic: The Rick Kirkham Story,” an episode of ID Presents: Nine at 9 that airs June 2 at 9/8c. He called the media circus surrounding the Netflix docuseries “exhausting.” 

“I don’t want to remember being at that zoo,” he says. 

Rick Kirkham says he realized Joe Exotic was not a ‘good guy’ 

Rick Kirkham
Rick Kirkham | Investigation Discovery

RELATED: Tiger King: Here’s What Happened After Cameras Stopped Rolling

Kirkham, a former tabloid television journalist, explains that he originally teamed up with Exotic to produce his online TV program. But Kirkham’s real goal was to eventually pitch a reality show about the controversial big-cat owner. 

At first, Kirkham was charmed by Exotic. “I liked the guy a lot … he was such a personality and so much fun to be around,” he says. Yet things soon took a dark turn. Kirkham says that he witnessed Exotic do a number of disturbing things, such as giving his employees drugs meant for animals. 

Kirkham also relates how a woman brought a horse to the GW Zoo, with the idea that Exotic would care for the animal. Exotic agree to take the horse, but as soon as she left, Kirkham says he shot the horse and fed it to the tigers.

“I knew right then and there this is not a good guy,” Kirkham says. 

He also says that Exotic was “terrified” of the animals he owned and would only get in the cage with the tigers if they were sedated or too old to do anyone any harm.  

Rick Kirkham and Joe Exotic’s relationship went up in flames 

Tiger King: Joe Exotic
Joe Exotic | Netflix

Kirkham and Exotic eventually fell out over the planned reality TV series. As seen in Tiger King, the trailer with almost all of Kirkham’s footage was destroyed in a fire he says was intentionally set by Exotic.

The blaze was devastating for the filmmaker, who was hoping that a successful reality series would allow him to reboot his career. Kirkham had once been a high-profile reporter for Inside Edition, but that ended due to his drug addiction, an experience documented in the 2006 film TV Junkie.  

Kirkham was so scarred by the experience with Exotic, as well as by a fire at his Texas home, that he decided to leave everything behind, move to a small city in Norway, and marry a woman he barely knew. Now, he works as a journalist for Norweigan news outlet Bodo Nu. He says he’s very happy about where he eventually ended up.

Kirkham says Joe Exotic got what he deserved

The success of Tiger King forced Kirkham to revisit a period of his life that comes with a lot of bad memories, he says. But he adds that his time with Exotic also inspired him to make positive changes in his life. And he says he was happy to see the big-cat owner go to prison for plotting to murder his rival Carole Baskin. 

“I think Joe Exotic got what he deserves,” he says. “I think karma came around and bit Joe Exotic in the a**. He was a very evil man, the man I knew.”

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