Arguably the most shocking moment in all of Tiger King is the accidental suicide of Travis Maldonado. The incident isn’t shown directly on-camera, but Joseph Maldonado-Passage’s (aka Joe Exotic) campaign manager, Joshua Dial, witnessed the traumatic event. Now, Travis’s sister, Danielle, is speaking out about her late brother and why she hopes Maldonado-Passage stays in jail.
Travis Maldonado’s sister struggles with Travis’s death in ‘Tiger King’
Episode 5 of Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness should come with a viewer discretion warning, according to Travis Maldonado’s sister, Danielle.
During an interview with 98.7 FM’s The Woody Show, Danielle said she was among the last to watch Tiger King footage and didn’t realize Travis’s death would be featured.
“I had not seen the footage. I did not want to see the footage. So when I saw it, I broke down,” she said. Danielle is one of Travis’s two sisters. He is also survived by his mother, Cheryl, and father, Danny.
“I couldn’t breathe for a half-an-hour. I instantly got online and tried to warn other family members, other friends, because that’s not something, like, viewer discretion advised. Like, we’re not ready for that. When it’s somebody you know, it’s a lot different.”
When it comes to the mass hysteria over Tiger King and “Joe Exotic,” Danielle admitted she enjoyed the seven-part docuseries for what it is.
“I was laughing all the way up until episode five,” she added, alluding to the episode of Travis’s death.
Here’s what ‘Joe Exotic’ and his zoo are really like, according to Danielle
The near 20-minute radio interview uncovered quite a bit of Danielle’s opinions of Tiger King, Maldonado-Passage, and the zoo itself.
Danielle said she visited the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma and stayed with Travis and Maldonado-Passage. However, her thoughts on the experience aren’t too great.
“It’s just kind of gross,” she said of the zoo. It’s not well put together. It’s not fun.” She later said in person, she felt the cages for the big cats were far too small, and there were too many big cats per cage.
When pressed on Maldonado-Passage’s house specifically, Danielle had this to say:
“It was bad,” she said. “That’s where I had to stay.”
She elaborated on a time she looked in the freezer for ice cream but found a dead baby tiger cub instead. Danielle said she told Travis about it but he shrugged it off as a normal, everyday thing.
Then the radio host asked if Maldonado-Passage is as extreme as portrayed in Tiger King. Danielle said he’s actually more of the quiet type who keeps to himself unless he’s talking.
“He talks about himself, about how bad a** he is,” she said. “Or he’ll be like ‘someone is out to get me, everybody wants me, and then, of course, he’ll talk about Carole Baskin. About how she tried to bring him down, it’s her fault everything’s happening.’”
Danielle wants everyone to know this about her late brother
When it came to questions about why Travis stayed with Maldonado-Passage, Danielle said her brother thought of the marriage as a “gig.” Toward the end of the relationship, before Travis died, she said he tried making “secret” friends.
Maldonado-Passage’s reaction, she said, was to move Travis into his house, buy him more gifts (like guns), and to relieve Travis of job-related duties at the zoo so he could just have fun. She added that Maldonado-Passage gave Travis whatever he wanted to “keep him around.”
However, Danielle wants viewers of Tiger King to know that, despite various threads suggesting Travis may have been suicidal and meant to kill himself, that is not what she knew of her brother — a “California skater-boy” who loved his family but “got caught up in Maldonado-Passage’s world,” as she described him.
“It was not a suicide. We were planning to go pick up my brother,” she said. “So, he was about to come home safely.”
As for whether or not Danielle thinks Maldonado-Passage ever leaves prison, the answer is a resounding “no,” claiming Maldonado-Passage “preyed on little boys.”
“He needs to rot,” she said. “He’s a gross man.”
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness is available on Netflix.
How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.
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