Tiger King: Joe Exotic Has Led a Controversial Life, and That Includes His (Many) Marriages

Netflix’s documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness is the wild tale of Joe Exotic (real name, Joseph Maldonado-Passage but born Joseph Schreibvogel), a zookeeper of sorts who bred big cats for a living but also led a controversial life of animal abuse, polygamy, and conspiring to murder. Joe was an openly gay man who has gone through a string of husbands in his lifetime, though not all of them were legitimate, thanks to gay marriage not being legal until recently. Take a look at Maldonado-Passage’s sordid relationship history ahead.

1. Brian Rhyne

While Maldonado-Passage was working at a gay bar in Texas in the ’80s, he met Rhyne, and the two ended up “married,” though the marriage wasn’t officially legal. Together, the two started Maldonado-Passage’s zoo in Oklahoma using the money the family got when Maldonado-Passage’s brother Garold was killed in a car accident. In 2001, though, Rhyne died from an infection, and Maldonado-Passage held his funeral at the zoo.

2. JC Hartpence

After Rhyne’s death, Maldonado-Passage met Hartpence and the two quickly fell into a relationship. It appears the two were married, though once again, it wasn’t technically legal at the time. Maldonado-Passage was still with Hartpence when his next husband, John Finlay, entered his life, but after a very tumultuous relationship, Maldonado-Passage and Hartpence split.

3. John Finlay

Maldonado-Passage hired Finlay in 2003 to work at the zoo and quickly started a romantic relationship with him despite the fact that he was still with Hartpence. The two continued dating for 10 years and stayed together after Maldonado-Passage’s other relationship ended. Maldonado-Passage married Finlay in a three-way wedding with Travis Maldonado in 2014.

4. Travis Maldonado

Maldonado was a meth addict, according to Texas Monthly, while living in California, and when one of Maldonado-Passage’s employees found out about him, he suggested to Maldonado-Passage that he take Maldonado in and let him work with the animals as a form of rehab. Maldonado-Passage did just that in late 2013 and ended up marrying him, alongside Finlay, just a month later. The zoo-themed wedding was held across the street from Maldonado-Passage’s park and he even shared it on his YouTube channel.

The three-way marriage didn’t quite work for Maldonado-Passage, Finlay, and Maldonado, and Finlay ended up leaving the others. In 2017, when Maldonado was just 23, he accidentally shot himself in the head and died, leaving Maldonado-Passage an absolute wreck and borderline suicidal.

5. Dillon Passage

Two months after Maldonado’s death, Maldonado-Passage married Dillon Passage. The two ended up moving to Florida before Maldonado-Passage went to trial for his many crimes. Maldonado-Passage was sentenced to 22 years in prison in early 2020, and it’s unclear if he’s still married to Passage.

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