Why He Was Shirtless, Joe Exotic and More: John Finlay Tells All


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A changed man. John Finlay didn’t expect such a massive reaction from Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness — but he’s taking it all in stride.

“I’m me because of my past, but I’m pretty much one of those what-you-see-is-what-you-get. And once everybody gets to know me, they tend to like me a little bit differently,” he shared exclusively with Us Weekly. “[On the show], I look like some kind of hardcore badass with tattoos and stuff. They get to know me and know I’m more of a cute, cuddly little bear!”

Finlay, who was once married to Joe Exotic, is in a very different place than he was on the series. He’s now engaged to a woman and has a daughter. However, his life isn’t exactly how it was shown on the series; for one, he wears a shirt more often. In fact, he shared with Us that producers had “suggested” he did his interviews without a shirt.

“There was a couple of interviews where I did have a shirt on. They had actually filmed quite a few interviews where I did have a shirt on,” he said, noting that he wasn’t bothered by the fact that most of what they used showed him shirtless. Plus, he appreciates the outpouring of love — and the “he’s hot” comments he’s received.

John Finlay shirtless
John Finlay Netflix

“It’s actually flattering that they do that,” he told Us. “I support the LGBTQ [community]. Everybody doesn’t deserve to be judged in life. They should be able to live how they want freely. And that’s how I feel about it. Everybody should have their way, and live how they want.”

During the series, after he and Joe Exotic parted ways, he got one of his tattoos covered up — one that read “Privately Owned by Joe Exotic” on his lower abdomen — but there are many more.

“Me and my tattoo artist right now are in discussion of what to do, but nothing is actually set in stone of how it’s going to be done,” he said. While he didn’t name the number of tattoos he has for his ex, he admitted there are “too many.”

John Finlay
John Finlay Courtesy of John Finlay

Finlay’s teeth also drew attention during filming, but he has recently had a new set put in. However, the dental issues were not due to drug use, as assumed in the series. “It was genetic. I battled with it from a teenager up until my mid-30s,” he told Us. He got his teeth fixed before marrying Joe Exotic in 2017.

“It hurt worse than my 50-something tattoos,” he shared. “But ever since then it’s, they’re just a normal everyday part of life now. … I smile a whole lot more.”

The zookeeper said that he also has been sober for six years after a tough battle.

“I had just gotten away from Joe and started a new life. And my daughter was born, and everything around me just keeps having a domino effect of a more positive light on everything,” he said. “Because my fiancee’s around me now, and she’s been a big help, and helping me get through everything that’s been going on. … She keeps me on my toes!”

Tiger King is now streaming on Netflix. A reunion special, The Tiger King and I, will be released Sunday, April 12.

With reporting by Brody Brown

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