Carole Baskin

Carole Baskin
Carole Baskin September 2019.png
Baskin in 2019
Carole Stairs Jones

(1961-06-06) June 6, 1961 (age 60)
Other names
  • Carole Murdock
  • Carole Lewis
Known for
Michael Murdock
(m. 1979; div. 1990)
(m. 1991; legal d. 2002)
Howard Baskin
(m. 2004)

Carole Baskin (née Stairs Jones; born June 6, 1961) is an American big-cat rights activist and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, a non-profit animal sanctuary based near Tampa, Florida.[1][2]

Baskin drew public attention when she was featured in the 2020 Netflix documentary series Tiger King about Oklahoma-based private zoo operator Joe Exotic. The Netflix series follows both Baskin and Joe Exotic, as well as exotic animal owner Doc Antle, filming their ongoing and escalating feuds over exotic animals in private zoos. Following the release of the series, Baskin has been the subject of internet memes and conspiracy theories related to the disappearance of Don Lewis, her second husband. Her catchphrase "Hey all you cool cats and kittens!" also became a meme as a result of the documentary.[3]

Aside from Tiger King, Baskin is also well known for her appearance on Dancing with the Stars, featuring her dancing to a cover of the song "Eye of the Tiger".[4]

Early life

Carole Stairs Jones was born on June 6, 1961, on the Lackland Air Force Base in Bexar County, Texas.[5] She expressed an interest in saving cats when she was nine, but she decided against pursuing a career in veterinary medicine after she learned that veterinarians euthanize animals.[6] She dropped out of high school and left home with a local roller rink employee.[6][7] Baskin then hitchhiked back and forth between Florida and Bangor, Maine, sleeping under parked cars.[7] She later purchased a Datsun truck and slept in the back with her pet cat.[7]


At the age of 17, Baskin worked at a Tampa department store. To make money, she began breeding show cats;[7] she also began rescuing bobcats, and used llamas for a lawn trimming business.[6][7] In January 1991, she married her second husband and joined his real estate business.[6]

As Carole Lewis, she and her husband Don founded Wildlife on Easy Street, an animal sanctuary near Tampa for big cats, in 1992. She is the current chief executive officer of the sanctuary, which she renamed to Big Cat Rescue sometime after Lewis's disappearance in 1997.[8][9][10] She has used social media such as Facebook and YouTube and her "The Cat Chat" podcast to promote activism against private zoos.[11] The New York Times and The Hollywood Reporter have described her as an animal rights activist.[1][2]

In 2020, Baskin was cast in season 29 of Dancing with the Stars.[12] On the series' September 14 season premiere she danced a paso doble with partner Pasha Pashkov to Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" and they received a 11 out of a possible 30, the lowest cumulative score of the evening.[13] Meanwhile, during the broadcast in select Florida television markets, including Tampa, Lewis' family and their attorney ran and appeared in a commercial spot asking for anyone with information on his disappearance to come forward and offered a hundred-thousand dollar reward.[14]

Dancing with the Stars (Season 29)

Week # Dance/Song Judges' score Result
Inaba Hough Tonioli
1 Paso doble / "Eye of the Tiger" 4 4 3 No Elimination
2 Viennese waltz / "What's New Pussycat?" 6 5 5 Bottom two
3 Samba / "Circle of Life" 5 4 3 Eliminated

Personal life

A tiger at Baskin's animal sanctuary Big Cat Rescue in 2012

She moved in with Michael Murdock, her boss at the department store where she worked, when she was 17.[7] The couple married on April 7, 1979. Baskin has said that she never loved him and married him only because her parents were disappointed that they had been living together outside of marriage.[15] She became pregnant soon after,[7] and daughter Jamie Veronica Murdock was born on July 16, 1980.[16]

According to Baskin, in 1981, when she was 19, she threw a potato at Murdock as he attempted to attack her. She ran out of their home barefoot and met her next husband, Don Lewis, on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa.[7][17] She and Lewis engaged in an affair while both were still married.[17] She became one of Lewis's many girlfriends and substantially grew his wealth by helping him buy and sell real estate in 1984.[18] The pair divorced their respective spouses and subsequently married in 1991.[6]

According to Baskin, Lewis was obsessed with sex and would frequently fly to Costa Rica, where he had substantial real estate holdings, to have affairs – timing the trips for whenever she was menstruating.[19][20] In July 1997, Lewis filed a restraining order against her, claiming that she had threatened to kill him; the restraining order was rejected.[21] Baskin claims that he filed the restraining order because she would haul off some of his "junk" property whenever he visited Costa Rica.[20] Lewis continued to live with Baskin afterwards.[22] Lewis told her multiple times that he wanted a divorce, but she did not think he was ever serious about it.[23] She claimed he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder months before he vanished.[24]

Lewis disappeared in August 1997[22] and was declared legally dead in 2002.[9][25] A dispute ensued between Baskin and the children of Lewis over his estate, with Baskin prevailing as the primary beneficiary.[21] The case of Lewis’ disappearance is still active as of early 2021.[26]

She met Howard Baskin in November 2002 at a kick-off party for the newly formed No More Homeless Pets organization.[27] He joined Big Cat Rescue soon after as chairman of the advisory board.[27] He proposed to her in November 2003,[27] and they married in November 2004.[27]

In October 2020, Baskin came out as bisexual.[28]

Joe Exotic feud and

Baskin has a long-running feud with Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, the former owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, who goes by the nickname Joe Exotic.[29][30] Joe Exotic claimed that Baskin was involved in the disappearance of Lewis.[26] Exotic engaged in a pattern of harassment against Baskin, including trademark infringement.[31] In 2013, a court ordered him to pay Baskin $1 million in damages, leading to his bankruptcy.[6] In 2020, he was convicted of attempting to hire a hitman to kill her.[32]

In June 2020, a federal judge granted Joe Exotic's former zoo property to Baskin and Big Cat Rescue on the basis that Joe Exotic fraudulently transferred the zoo's real estate to his mother to avoid creditors, particularly Baskin's judgment against him. Jeff Lowe's current zoo operation on the property was given 120 days to vacate the property with their animals.[33][34]

In November 2019, Universal Content Productions announced that they were adapting a Joe Exotic podcast for television, with Kate McKinnon portraying Baskin.[35] In March 2020, Baskin was featured in the Netflix documentary Tiger King.[36] She later spoke out against the series, calling it "salacious and sensational", and criticized directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin.[29] Baskin said that the filmmakers lied about the nature of the series when they approached her about it, claiming that they told her that they were going to be making "the big cat version of Blackfish".[29][37] After Tiger King was released, several Internet memes targeted Baskin and her speculated involvement in Lewis's disappearance.[38]

In March 2021, Baskin announced she was asked to participate in a follow-up to Tiger King, but turned the producers down.[39][40] She gave the following reason;[41]

I told them to lose my number. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. The first three months after ‘Tiger King’ aired my phone rang incessantly with people screaming obscenities. After that it slowed down. I didn’t take it personally but it really affected my husband and daughter. If someone said something about someone you love, you would want to protect them.

In March 2021, she was interviewed alongside Howard Baskin by British filmmaker Louis Theroux for the BBC documentary Shooting Joe Exotic, during which she discussed Tiger King and the allegations she murdered Don Lewis.[42] Theroux's documentary was a follow up on his 2011 film America's Most Dangerous Pets on Exotic and Exotic's animal park.


Baskin, through her company Big Cat Rescue, has lobbied Congress to ban the private trade and ownership of exotic cats.[43]

Baskin gave exclusively to Democratic candidates from 2005 to 2016, but since 2017 all but one of her contributions have gone to Republicans. Her only donation to a Democrat in the past three years was to Cory Booker's 2020 presidential campaign.[44] She has also praised Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and called out Ron DeSantis for not doing enough to fight COVID-19.[citation needed] In early 2021, following the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, Baskin left the Republican Party and became an independent.[45][irrelevant citation]



Year Title Role Notes
2011 Fatal Attractions Herself Animal Planet documentary
2020 Tiger King Herself Netflix documentary
2020 Dancing with the Stars Herself Season 29 contestant
(3 episodes)
2021 Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic Herself BBC documentary


  1. ^ a b Yuhas, Alan; Cramer, Maria (April 2, 2020). "What Happened After 'Tiger King'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 2, 2020. Retrieved April 2, 2020.
  2. ^ a b Josh Wigler (March 30, 2020). "'Tiger King': Carole Baskin Speaks Out Against Netflix Documentary". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on March 31, 2020. Retrieved April 2, 2020.
  3. ^ Holliday, Author Patty (March 31, 2020). "Hey All You Cool Cats and Kittens | The Best Tiger King Memes". No-Guilt Fangirl. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
  4. ^ "Carole Baskin's first appearance on Dancing With The Stars last night was...chaotic". UK. September 15, 2020. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
  5. ^ "1961 06 06". Carole Baskin. February 26, 2020. Event occurs at 00:08. Retrieved March 31, 2020 – via YouTube.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Sean Williams (June 22, 2019). "Joe Exotic Built a Wild Animal Kingdom. He Was the Most Dangerous Predator of Them All". The Daily Beast. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Robert Moor (September 3, 2019). "Joe Exotic bred lions, tigers, and ligers at his roadside zoo. He was a modern Barnum who found an equally extraordinary nemesis". Intelligencer. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  8. ^ Bullimore, Emma (March 17, 2020). "Who is Carole Baskin? Meet the real life activist from Netflix's Tiger King". Radio Times.
  9. ^ a b "Kim Kardashian Praises Tiger King — and Wonders if Carole Baskin Could Have Killed Her Husband". Archived from the original on March 25, 2020. Retrieved March 25, 2020.
  10. ^ "Carole Baskin". March 22, 2020. Archived from the original on January 17, 2020. Retrieved March 25, 2020.
  11. ^ Borges, Bernie (May 17, 2014). "Big Cat Rescue's Carole Baskin". Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  12. ^ Peter White (September 2, 2020). "Dancing With The Stars: ABC Unveils Season 29 Cast Including Tiger King's Carole Baskin & Rapper Nelly". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  13. ^ Hendricks, Jaclyn (September 15, 2020). "Carole Baskin's 'Dancing with the Stars' debut performance falls short".
  14. ^ "Carole Baskin's missing husband's family airs commercial during 'DWTS' premiere".
  15. ^ Carole Baskin (March 21, 2020). "1979 04 07". YouTube. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  16. ^ Carole Baskin (March 24, 2020). "1980 07 16". YouTube. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  17. ^ a b "The Secret". Tiger King. Season 1. Episode 3. March 20, 2020.
  18. ^ Lambert, Pam (December 7, 1998). "Too Purrfect". People. Archived from the original on March 29, 2020. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  19. ^ Gina Tron (March 26, 2020). "What Happened To Carole Baskin's Former Husband, Who Vanished In 1997?". Oxygen. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  20. ^ a b Douglas Charles (March 31, 2020). "Carole Baskin's Boyfriend After Her Husband Disappeared Also Filed For A Chilling Restraining Order Against Her". BroBible. Retrieved April 1, 2020.
  21. ^ a b Pearce, Tilly (March 19, 2020). "Tiger King: Who is Carole Baskin's first husband Jack 'Don' Lewis and when did he disappear?". Metro. Archived from the original on March 26, 2020. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
  22. ^ a b "Disappearance on Easy Street". WTSP. November 1, 2002. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  23. ^ "Jack Donald Lewis – The Charley Project". September 22, 2018. Archived from the original on September 27, 2019. Retrieved April 2, 2020.
  24. ^ "Carole Baskin Claims Husband Don Lewis Was Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder Months Before He Vanished". Oxygen Official Site. June 4, 2020. Retrieved August 14, 2020.
  25. ^ Cordero, Rosy (March 24, 2020). "'Tiger King' subject Carole Baskin slams Netflix doc, calls it 'salacious and sensational'".
  26. ^ a b "Police ask for new leads in disappearance of Don Lewis, husband of "Tiger King" star Carole Baskin". CBS News. March 30, 2020. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  27. ^ a b c d "Carole Baskin Weds Howard Baskin". Big Cat Rescue. September 20, 2019. Archived from the original on March 30, 2020. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  28. ^ "Carole Baskin Comes Out as Bisexual". TMZ. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  29. ^ a b c "'Tiger King' Hitman Target Carole Baskin Shreds Netflix Docuseries: 'Salacious and Sensational'". March 24, 2020. Archived from the original on March 26, 2020. Retrieved March 25, 2020.
  30. ^ "Not Your Average Joe". Tiger King. Season 1. Episode 1. March 20, 2020.
  31. ^ Moor, Robert. "American Animals". New York Magazine. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
  32. ^ U.S. Attorney’s Office Western District of Oklahoma (January 22, 2020). ""Joe Exotic" Sentenced to 22 Years for Murder-For-Hire and for Violating the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act". United States Department of Justice.
  33. ^ Lee, David (June 1, 2020). "Foe of 'Tiger King' Zookeeper Granted Oklahoma Property".
  34. ^ Woerner, Meredith (June 1, 2020). "Carole Baskin Awarded Control Over Joe Exotic's Zoo". Variety. Retrieved June 1, 2020.
  35. ^ Lesley Goldberg (November 5, 2019). "Kate McKinnon to Star in TV Series Based on Podcast 'Joe Exotic'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on January 9, 2020. Retrieved April 2, 2020.
  36. ^ Miller, Korin (March 23, 2020). "Carole Baskin From Netflix's 'Tiger King' Is Doing Just Fine, TYVM". Women's Health.
  37. ^ "Refuting Netflix Tiger King". March 22, 2020. Archived from the original on March 25, 2020. Retrieved March 25, 2020.
  38. ^ "'Tiger King': Sheriff seeking leads in 1997 disappearance of Carole Baskin's 2nd husband". KIRO 7. March 31, 2020. Retrieved April 2, 2020.
  39. ^ "Carole Baskin Refuses To Be in Tiger King Season 2". ScreenRant. February 26, 2021. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
  40. ^ Chase, Stephanie (February 24, 2021). "Tiger King's Carole Baskin explains why she has quit Netflix show ahead of season 2". Digital Spy. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
  41. ^ Siegler, Mara (May 28, 2021). "Carole Baskin says 'no' to second season of 'Tiger King'". Page Six. Retrieved May 29, 2021.
  42. ^ McMahon, James (April 6, 2021). "Four key takeaways from 'Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic'". NME. Retrieved April 11, 2021.
  43. ^ "Congressional action reintroduced to end abuse of exotic cats". Hernando Sun. March 18, 2019. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
  44. ^ "Individual Contributions - Carole Baskin". FEC. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
  45. ^ "Florida Voters". Florida Voters. Retrieved April 21, 2021.

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