Back in March of 2020, Tiger King fever swept the nation. Dropping right when the country was first locking down as a result of COVID-19, the Netflix documentary was watched by a whopping 34.3 million people during its first ten days of release. The hit streamer introduced us to a slew of crazy characters, including the larger-than-life zookeeper Joe Exotic. We watched his epic rise and shameful fall, witnessing him losing everything—including his freedom. But did the convicted criminal make any money from the runaway success of the Tiger King? Does he have any cash to speak of while he sits in federal prison? Here’s a deep dive into Joe Exotic’s current net worth.
Joe Exotic Was The Owner Of G.W. Zoo
Before he was known by his flashy moniker, Joe Exotic was just a regular guy named Joe Schreibvogel. Through the years, he’s changed his name multiple times, with the most recent iteration being Maldonado-Passage, a mix of ex and current husbands.
He always had an interest in animals, even as a kid. “My animal hobby started in grade school,” Exotic said in a 2020 interview. “I brought home the school’s white mice for the summer and ended up with hundreds of white mice. We went around different farmer’s barns at night and caught pigeons to raise and show off for 4-H. At one time we had around 500 pigeons.”
But before Exotic embarked on an animal-focused career, he lived in the small Texas town of Eastvale, working as a policeman. He was the town’s police chief for a number of years until he was badly injured in a car accident (or so he claimed). After the accident, he left law enforcement and moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, where he found a job as a pet store manager.
In 1986, Exotic moved back to Texas and bought a pet store of his own with his husband at the time, Brian Rhyne, and his brother, Garold (a.k.a. G.W. Schreibvogel). According to Texas Monthly, the trio started out selling small animals like reptiles, birds, and fish, then worked their way up to more exotic creatures such as three-banded armadillos and four-eyed opossums.
The business was successful enough to earn them all a decent living for a decade, until tragedy struck in 1997—Garold was hit and killed by a drunk driver. Joe was devastated by the death of his older brother, who he had always looked up to as a role model and protector.
“My brother was my hero,” Exotic said in a 2020 interview. “We had the pet store people gave me a hard time [about being gay], so he painted the pole of the sign by Fielder Road the color of the gay flag and said, ‘F*ck em, you’re my brother and if they don’t like it they can deal with me.’”
Grief Turned To Goodness
Too grief stricken to continue running the pet store without Garold by his side, Exotic sold the shop. Soon after, he earned a large sum of money from a wrongful death suit filed on behalf of his brother, which he used to buy a 16-acre property near Oklahoma City. He turned that property into the Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park (a.k.a. the G.W. Zoo), in honor of his brother.
And that’s when Exotic’s career as a celebrity zookeeper really took off. In 2000, he brought his first two tigers into the zoo, then continued to acquire more and more. Two years later, after helping a traveling magician handle tigers for a stage show, he decided to start his own tiger-focused act. The idea attracted big audiences, prompting Exotic to evolve the magic show into meet-and-greet sessions where people could pay to pet and pose for pictures with the tigers. This is also when he officially adopted “Joe Exotic” as his stage name.
Audiences couldn’t get enough of the Tiger King and soon Exotic was earning a substantial amount of cash from his meet-and-greet exploits. He continued to profit from them—and running the popular G.W. Zoo—until 2018.
Not Your Typical Zookeeper
In addition to earning big bucks for his tigers, Joe Exotic had a number of interesting side hustles. If you’ve watched Tiger King, you’ve seen clips of his colorful country music videos, which featured songs he claimed to be his own but were actually written and performed by hired artists.
Exotic also had a gig as a professional wrestling commentator, thanks to a friendship he formed with wrestling promoter and businessman Robert Langdon. Exotic worked for the NWA Texoma company for more than three years, providing colorful commentary on matches throughout Texas and Oklahoma. He also hosted wrestling shows at the G.W. Zoo.
And let’s not forget about Exotic’s political aspirations. The Here Kitty Kitty “singer” ran as an independent candidate in the 2016 presidential election, during which he proclaimed: “The first thing is, I am not cutting my hair. I am not changing the way I dress, I refuse to wear a suit. I am gay, I’ve had two boyfriends most of my life…I’ve had some kinky sex, I’ve tried drugs…I am Joe Exotic, and don’t forget, I am now stepping my foot in the ring to run for President.“
Two years later, Exotic ran for Governor of Oklahoma, because he just could not wait until 2020 to vie for political power again. “I learned more in 11 months in running for president than I did in 12 years of school,” he said in a 2018 interview with OKC FOX. “I was like, I can’t keep my mouth shut for four more years…I could be politically correct and I could be polite and I could lay it all out on the line and nobody listens.”
Fortunately —for everyone—Joe Exotic did not win either race.
How The Tiger King Lost His Crown
Of course, Exotic wouldn’t have served as governor for long had he been elected, as the Tiger King was arrested in September 2018. He was accused of hiring hit men to kill Carole Baskin, the owner of Big Cat Rescue animal sanctuary.
Exotic had been taunting and feuding with Baskin for years, angry that her efforts to end commercial cub petting were affecting his lucrative tiger show business. To try and put a stop to her actions for good, he hatched an unsuccessful plot to have Baskin murdered. Thanks to an investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, he was stopped before the plan could be executed.
Exotic was also slapped with a slew of federal animal abuse charges, including falsifying wildlife records and violating the Endangered Species Act. He sold tigers across state lines, even going so far as to kill them once the animals became too old and costly to keep. In 2019, he was found guilty on two counts of murder for hire, as well as 17 counts of animal abuse. He was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison.
Joe Exotic’s Net Worth
So after all the legal woes and Netflix-worthy drama, does the Tiger King have anything left? According to CelebrityNetWorth.com, the disgraced zookeeper is worth about a less-than-impressive negative $1 million. This pales in comparison to Carole Baskin’s reported net worth of $10 million.
In March 2021, Exotic announced that he wrote a book from prison. Entitled Tiger King: The Official Tell-All Memoir, the autobiography was published by Simon & Schuster.
You can also head over to Joe Exotic’s still-running official website to find his other current hustles, including selling Tiger King crypto coins and running a “Bachelor King” contest to find himself a new mate. The former zookeeper is also hopeful he will be getting out of prison sooner rather than later, with ambitious plans for getting back on his feet.
“When and if I get out of this alive, I want to be the first to combine comedy/music/magic in one concert and tour the world,” he said. “And use that money to save people all over from starvation and homelessness, save our rainforests for the animals that need it, and advocate for people in jail and prison against the corruption in our justice system, to end the abuse in jail and hold prosecutors and agents accountable for perjury just to win a case for self gain.”