Like all good Americans, I spent last weekend binge-watching Netflix's Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness while trapped in quarantine.
The mind-blowingly outrageous docuseries follows Joe Exotic, the gay, polygamist, gun-wagging owner of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, an Oklahoma zoo with around 200 big cats. One of the principal characters is Jeff Lowe, an Affliction-wearing, Hummer-driving businessman who—SPOILERS!—teams with and later betrays Exotic, helping the feds nab him before completely taking over his zoo.
Starved for additional Tiger King content, I woke up Sunday morning and started hunting around the internet. Exotic, who's serving 22 years in prison on murder-for-hire and animal welfare convictions, is "absolutely thrilled" with his portrayal; fellow big-cat tycoon Bhagavan "Doc" Antle took issue with "less-than-flattering mistruths"; and Exotic's arch enemy, Big Cat Rescue boss Carol Baskin, slammed the series as “salacious and sensational."
As for Lowe, he was "slightly concerned that my Son's Of Anarchy lifestyle might be too much for the average person to handle," but overall felt that filmmakers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin "did a good job," per now-deleted Facebook posts. Lowe's G.W. Zoo website, it turns out, has been scrubbed of any Joe Exotic mentions, though the MEET THE CEO section revealed a locally angled treat:
"Later in his life, Jeff went on to work with Robbie and Evel Knievel, as well as the musician Prince and several other famous faces."
Wielding the powers of journalism, I called the zoo as soon as it opened. A man answered, and I explained who I was and that I was calling about the Prince connection.
About five minutes later, I received a text from an Oklahoma area code.
"Jay, the Prince lawsuit was sealed in a Federal Court," read the text from Lowe. "Prince and I worked it out amicably and that’s all that matters. Thanks for your interest."
Um... lawsuit? This was news to me. I gently pressed for additional details, but Lowe said he'd "respectfully pass."
"Prince was a very private person and asked me to respect that," he said. "I promised him I would. Please respect his wishes with me."
At this point, I wondered: Is it possible that Lowe's only connection to Prince is... getting sued by the famously litigious late superstar?
A quick dig through federal court records unearthed the 2007 lawsuit that Lowe had alluded to. At the time, Lowe ran Beaufort Liquidation, a flea market in Beaufort, South Carolina, where he annoyed county officials by showcasing big cats. The store's online offshoot, Club Returns, once attempted to sell off artifacts that previously belonged to Prince—stage-worn outfits, shoes, etc.—that it had acquired from a third party. Here's a screen-grab from the civil complaint:
Curious to know more, we reached out to Dale Akins, the South Carolina lawyer that Prince's Minneapolis-based legal team tasked with handling the lawsuit against Lowe. When Akins received the call from a Miami lawyer about representing Prince, he assumed he was being pranked by a friend.
"[Prince's rep] says: 'You familiar with Prince?' And I say, 'Yeah man, I saw the damn Super Bowl!'" Akins remembers. "And there was this long pause and I thought... oh my God, this is real."
The lawsuit, which centered on Lowe violating Prince's copyright by using the Love Symbol, was resolved without much fuss, Akins reports, ending in an out-of-court settlement. Akins has also read the Prince boast on Lowe's zoo's website, and he has his suspicions.
“The thing about him working with Prince... I’m not gonna call him a liar, but based on any information I have, he never worked for Prince—unless you call getting sued working for him," says Akins, who was "absolutely blown away" by Tiger King.
The good-natured Southern lawyer correctly predicted that the baller lifestyle Lowe enjoyed early on in Tiger King was "bullshit," but he politely declined to speak on his impressions of Lowe circa 2007—at least at first.
“Try not to get me in trouble, OK?" Akins said. "Because he’s… I don’t wanna say anything disparaging about him.”
Three minutes later, Akins's number flashed across my phone again.
“And in retrospect,” he said with a laugh, “you can go ahead and quote me saying, in my opinion, he was a very sketchy individual.”