The Real Reason John Finlay Was Always Shirtless On Tiger King

The Netflix docuseries Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness will give you all the feels. It's hilarious, wacky, creepy, and horribly sad as it examines the business of big cats in America. The hit series also studies the wild lives of a dynamic cast of characters, including controversial animal activist Carole Baskin and her nemesis, Joe Exotic, former owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma. There's also John Finlay, one of Joe's husbands.

Finlay reportedly joined the zoo in 2003, when he was just 19-years-old. According to Texas Monthly, John and Joe quickly fell in love and moved in together. In 2013, Finlay and Joe began a polygamous relationship with a new staff member at the zoo, 19-year-old Travis Maldonado. "Shortly after, they threw a three-way, zoo-themed wedding ceremony at a dance hall across the street from the park," per People.

Their complex relationship raises plenty of questions, but for many fans, one mystery tops all the rest. Why the heck is Joe Finlay shirtless in almost every interview?

John Finlay and tattoo culture

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Tiger King directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin addressed the issue of John Finlay's bare chest. According to Chaiklin, the reason John was shirtless in so many shots was because he wanted to show off his tattoos: "I think he was very proud of his tattoos. That's a big thing in that particular culture." Perhaps one of Finlay's most notable tattoos that he showed off in the docu-series is the one that appeared above his pelvis and read: PRIVATELY OWNED BY JOE EXOTIC.

Since the release of Tiger King, Finlay has reportedly launched a Facebook page called "The Truth About John Finlay" to clarify certain details depicted in this Netflix gem. For instance, that aforementioned pelvis tattoo has supposedly been reworked, and so has his smile. According to TMZ, Finlay was upset with certain parts of his characterization in Tiger King, including the suggestion that his missing teeth could have been a side-effect of meth use. He reportedly told the tab that his missing teeth were due to genetics, and he got dentures in 2019. 

Finlay currently lives in central Oklahoma and works as a welder, according to TMZ. He is still engaged to Stormey, the woman he was with at the end of the docuseries. 

Joe Exotic and John Finlay: struggles in their marriage

Joe Exotic and John Finlay started out as two lovebirds, but, over the course of their relationship, things went from sweet to sour. Joe allegedly asked Finlay to take steroids, which Finlay did, but they prompted fits of rage, according to New York Magazine. On one occasion, Finlay threw Joe into a wall with such force that Joe wound up in the hospital.

Things came to a head in August 2014 when Finlay complained that Joe was becoming too manipulative and controlling. Finlay actually attacked Joe in the parking lot of the Tiger King star's zoo, according to Texas Monthly. Interestingly, there are mixed reports about what happened after. According to Texas Monthly, Finlay was "arrested and charged with assault and battery." However, Oxygen reportedly spoke with Garvin County Sheriff Jim Mullett, who told the outlet that there is no record of an assault charge from that time.

In October 2014, Joe filed for an order of protection against Finlay, but that was dismissed, per Oxygen.

Was John Finlay in a cult?

The topic of cults frequently comes up throughout the Tiger King docu-series . While the theme seems to center around Bhagavan "Doc" Antle and his harem, people have also made mention of Joe Exotic's ability to lure young, defenseless men into his inner circle. As New York Magazine notes, the men Joe went after, John Finlay included, "came from rough circumstances" and Joe's zoo was something of a sanctuary to them.

On social media, people are drawing parallels between Joe's young men and his big cats. On Finlay's Facebook page — which he made specifically to navigate all of the attention he's receiving from the release of Tiger King – fans are speaking directly to him about their impression of the show. One fan wrote: "I felt so sad for you and Travis. It was very clear Joe was a predator and you guys were as captive as the animals. God bless you!"

Interestingly, Finlay is answering many fans in a frank way, one that's allowing him to control his narrative in a way the Netflix docu-series did not allow. One fan asked: "[O]verall, what are your feelings about the docuseries and it's truthfulness, also your portal [sic] in the you feel it was accurate and fair for what was depicted in 7 hours?!"

Finlay replied saying the series "twisted the truth to present the perfect entertainment production (via Entertainment Tonight)." It seems like, now, Finlay is running his own story.

John Finlay moves on

John Finlay's tattoos were really something of a spectacle in Tiger King and anyone who has binged the series will have noticed the slow camera work focusing on Finlay's body, taking in all of his ink. The infamous "PRIVATELY OWNED BY JOE EXOTIC" tattoo isn't the only one he got for his then-husband. Finlay also had a tattoo on his upper arm with a script reading, "For my husband Joe," in addition to the numerous tattoos covering his entire torso. It certainly makes sense that he went shirtless to show off his tattoos!

Fans brought up Finlay's shirtless interviews even on his Facebook page to burn some of the other characters on the show. One wrote: "I'd rather be shirtless and be missing teeth for 7 episodes than be the guy that did an interview from his [bathtub]!"

Finlay was clearly upset about his portrayal in Tiger King and wrote about it on his Facebook page: "Yes I have my teeth fixed. The producers of the Netflix series had video and pictures of this, but chose not to show it. It's all about the ratings for them, not the people they hurt."

It's a shame this wasn't shown because, in a way, Finlay's physical changes symbolize the fact that he has moved on from all things Joe Exotic.