You may know Rick Kirkham has the wide-brim hat wearing, reality TV producer who appears on Netflix’s Tiger King. But there’s a whole lot more to Kirkham than a footnote in Joe Exotic’s tumultuous story.
Kirkham moved onto Exotic's Greater Wynnewood Zoo property to film a reality show about Joe Exotic and, in exchange, boost the production value of Exotic’s somewhat unhinged web series. Kirkham claimed to have “everything” on video, including “good, bad, and ugly.”
But in March 2015, a suspected arson fire destroyed the zoo studio, killing the zoo’s alligators—and destroying all of Kirkham’s footage.
“I dropped to my knees and I cried,” Kirkham said of the fire in the docuseries. “I cried because all of our footage was in that studio and I hadn't backed up anything outside the studio.”
Kirkham immediately left G.W. Zoo and had a nervous breakdown, he claims in the docuseries. There have been accusations that Kirkham himself set fire to the studio, to which he responded, “That's my retirement money that just burned, OK?" Kirkham's own house inexplicably burned down just six months later, killing his dog.
However, the documentary seems to suggest Exotic himself may have paid someone to set the fire, as the footage lost in the fire were going to be under subpoena and could incriminate Exotic further.
Exotic is currently serving a 22 year sentence for hiring a hitman to kill his rival Carole Baskin, another controversial big cat figurehead. Exotic was also found guilty of falsifying wildlife records and violating the Endangered Species Act.
We may never know all of what Kirkham caught on tape and the extent of Exotic’s story. But Kirkham has quite the story of his own.
Who is Rick Kirkham?
In an exhaustive look at Kirkham’s past, Oxygen uncovered quite a few gems that didn’t make it into the Tiger King docuseries. At 16 years old, Kirkham first got a taste of television as a dancer on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. Always interested in television, he then went to school for broadcast journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma, according to Kirkham’s LinkedIn profile.
One of his first gigs out of college was as a crime reporter at a Las Vegas NBC affiliate. According to his self-made documentary on his life entitled TV Junkie, Kirkham often accompanied the police to make drug busts during this time. But he soon began to use crack cocaine.
Kirkham was hired in 1988 by Inside Edition as an anchor, where he interviewed celebrities like James Brown and Chuck Norris. At one point during this stint, Kirkham interviewed then-president George H.W. Bush while high, according to Oxygen. His career soon turned to doing outrageous stunts as part of Inside Edition like being shot out of a cannon, set on fire, and wrestling a nine-foot alligator.
Soon after his wedding and right before the birth of his first child, Kirkham checked into rehab at the encouragement of Inside Edition producers. But soon, his continued cocaine use caused his professional and personal life to crumble. He was fired from Inside Edition and subsequent jobs, and divorced his first wife.
Eventually, Kirkham achieved sobriety and released the 2006 documentary TV Junkie, a compilation of self-filmed footage during his drug use. He then went on speak publicly about his drug use to young adults, and advocate for sobriety.
Kirkham now lives in Norway with his wife where he works as a freelance reporter, Oxygen reports, adding that he is also Facebook friends with Baskin.
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