Netflix docuseries Tiger King is full of myopic weirdos, but perhaps none as convinced of their own holier-than-thou delusion than Bhaghavan “Doc” Antle. The founder of Myrtle Beach Safari admits to polygamous relationships with his young female employees. Though he tries to rise above the childish drama between characters Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, Antle can’t help but be drawn further into the series as his eccentric personal life and obsession with tigers act as a magnet for the cameras.
Recently, it was pointed out by eagle-eyed fans that Antle, lord of ligers and scuzzy Hoobastank soul patches, played a major part in Britney Spears’ 2001 MTV VMAs performance of Slave 4 U. (Ironically, Slave 4 U is the welcome song for new workers hired on at his animal sanctuary.) While Spears pranced around with a python draped on her shoulders, Antle handles a tiger in the background. Does this make him a part of pop culture history?
We know he provided animals for big productions like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dr. Dolittle. But what other bizarre pop culture moments has Doc Antle crashed? Here, a truncated timeline of Antle’s unlikely flirtations with mainstream culture.
Antle was credited as the animal stunt coordinator for the monkeys used in Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, a strange little action comedy joint about an NYPD cop who’s possessed by the spirit of a Kabuki theatre actor and gains superhuman abilities such as, uh, the ability to use heat-seeking chopsticks. It marks the Doc’s Hollywood (well, it technically filmed in Jersey City, apparently…) debut.
6th May, 1992
In possibly his first television appearance, Doc Antle went on Late Night with David Letterman, not in a star animal-showboating role but as an assistant to Jack Hanna. Hanna, or Jungle Jack Hanna, was an American zookeeper who was credited with elevating the quality of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio. Hanna talks about his black panther, Shadow, while a mullet-sporting Antle (who already goes by the name “Bhaghavan”) nuzzles it and cradles it offstage like a fifth wife.
20th July, 1997
Antle was credited for providing all of the animals on the Jonathan Taylor Thomas vehicle Wild America, one of his last films before “retiring” to attend Harvard. The Warner Brothers adventure comedy about three brothers who are obsessed with documenting wildlife, was a box office flop.
25th December, 1998
Antle is listed as the animal trainer for Mighty Joe Young – you know, the movie where the main villain is a poacher running a fraudulent wildlife refuge that kills animals to harvest their organs. According to IMDB, Antle also played “Party Guest Grabbed by Joe” in the scene when the titular ape goes on a rampage at a gala but was uncredited.
19th February, 2001
Jay Leno has Doc Antle on to show off his collection of exotic animals alongside his star guest, Gary Oldman, who is there to promote his film Hannibal. Coincidence?
11th June, 2004
Napoleon Dynamite, for better or for worse, kind of introduced us to ligers. “It’s pretty much my favorite animal,” Dynamite says in the sleeper hit. “It’s like a lion and a tiger mixed… bred for its skills in magic.” The line could have been ripped out of Antle’s mouth. He was asked to chat about ligers for a “Hybrid Animals” segment on ABC News in 2010, where he gushes about what is probably his favourite film this side of My 5 Wives. He said: “The Napoleon Dynamite phenomenon made an awareness about ligers, which made people have an interest in the natural world. It made a unicorn come to life.”
6th September, 2007
Antle slinks in the background as Britney Spears writhes during her iconic 2001 MTV VMAs performance of Slave 4 U. “She was a golden child for that,” he told Rolling Stone in 2015 of Spears’ performance, a comment I will abstain from reading into. “She had to climb into a cage and dance with a big, adult tiger. Big adult tiger’s in there. It’s just an arms-width wide cage.” Is this a metaphor? Hard to say. (Spears could not be reached for comment.)
7th January, 2014
When Beyoncé and Jay‑Z “rented a jungle” in Miami for Blue Ivy’s 2nd birthday party, they apparently enlisted the help of Antle and Myrtle Beach Safari’s controversial cub petting services. Myrtle Beach Safari posted a #throwback on Instagram last year, leaving the Beyhive to speculate in the comments whether the singer knew of the allegations against Antle.
More recent high-profile social media flexes orchestrated by Antle include this comment-disabled picture of pro boxer Floyd Mayweather chilling with a cheetah and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. playing catch with a white tiger and chimpanzee last year. His hot son, Kody, is also pals with Logan Paul, apparently. Take from that what you will…