JOE EXOTIC’S ex-husband has opened up about how he has finally fallen in love for real and got married . . . to a woman.
Smitten John Finlay says he tied the knot after previously being humiliated by his “fake” gay wedding with the Tiger King TV documentary star and another man.
The 37-year-old is now living in wedded bliss on an Oklahoma farm with a house cat — but no tigers — and his wife Stormey, 32, who he met on a dating app.
In an exclusive interview, John said one of his regrets is that he doesn’t have the cash to remove tattoos featuring Exotic’s name, despite his key role in the Netflix series that became a global sensation.
John told The Sun: “My wedding was the happiest day of my life.
“It kept being delayed because of the pandemic, so in the end we said ‘screw it’ and went to the courthouse. I didn’t want cameras there because it was only for us.
“I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.
“I had no idea what it is like to marry your rock, your soulmate, the person you spend every minute of the day with.
“Stormey completes me and we are deeply in love.”
Revealing that his three-way wedding with Exotic, 58, and Travis Maldonado — when John was missing most of his teeth — was faked for the reality show, John insists the marriage in June last year to Stormey is the first time he has been legally wed.
‘I will feel a lot freer when tattoos are gone’
In Tiger King he, Joe and Travis wore pink shirts as they exchanged rings in 2014.
But John, a father of one, added: “My fake wedding didn’t feel right at all. This is a totally different feeling.
“The fake one was basically a publicity stunt so Joe could get his own reality TV series. This one was the real thing.
“I didn’t wear a suit, the only time I’ll do that will be for my funeral. But I wasn’t in a pink shirt either.
“I wore a button-up black Western shirt, jeans and my rattlesnake boots.”
Addicted to crystal meth when he lived with Exotic, John is now healthy and free of drugs.
He spends his days working as a welder and tending the horses and chickens on his farm.
Yet despite his relaxed rural lifestyle, John struggles to erase the scars of the past — as well as the psychological damage and the multiple tattoos John says the “mean” Exotic convinced him to get.
One inking reading “Privately Owned By Joe Exotic” just above John’s groin he has covered by an angry bull’s head.
Four more tattoos remain featuring Exotic’s name. They include “Joe” on the right side of his chest and “For My Husband, Joe” on his upper arm.
John said: “My only short-term goal is to get all my tattoos covered up, which I’m in the process of doing.
Erasing scars of the past
“It helps get rid of old memories and I will feel a lot freer when they are gone. Before I had the main one covered up I didn’t really have a sex life at all.
“Then I got it covered and it was a whole different story. It’s bad when you’ve got some-one’s name tattooed down there right next to your private area.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it said Privately Owned By Joe Exotic. I agreed to have it but I wasn’t in a sound frame of mind.
“I didn’t think my choices through on tattoos. I don’t think I was drunk or high, but Joe said if I got that tattoo, I could possibly get another tattoo (of something else). That was the negotiation.
“Looking back, it was pretty mean of him. I haven’t had the others removed because I don’t have the money. It’s $125 an hour to get them covered and it can take five to ten hours per tattoo.”
He met Stormey in April 2019 after joining the dating app, almost a year before Tiger King hit screens.
And within weeks, John was so in love he felt the need to tell all about his past.
He said: “I told her everything because she was that important to me. I was nervous because most people would run away screaming.
“But she stuck with me, and that showed she is The One.”
Stormey, a college student, said: “John told me his entire background before we even met, when we were talking over the phone.
“I still wanted to meet because I only care about who he is now, not who he was then. We’ve both had other relationships but this is the first time it’s real.
“We’ve dedicated ourselves to each other and our wedding was our special day.”
John was most often seen in Tiger King toothless and with his shirt off, proudly displaying his dozens of tattoos.
The show broke viewing records when it was released in March 2020, with 64million tuning in globally.
‘They made me look like a drugged-up hillbilly’
John has since had his teeth fixed and has cut off contact with Exotic — real name Joe Maldonado-Passage — who is serving a 22-year sentence in prison.
Exotic was convicted of hiring a hitman to murder his nemesis, fellow zoo owner Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue.
Carole, an animal welfare campaigner and social media personality, feuded bitterly with Exotic and accused him of cruelty to the big cats on his zoo. She was subsequently awarded his property by the courts.
John says he bears little relation to the unemployed teenager who turned up at Exotic’s roadside zoo, the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, in 2003 looking for a job.
He is still haunted by the slaughter of five tigers for which Exotic, who is 21 years John’s senior, is also serving jail time.
John said: “I was 19 when I joined the zoo. I was young and dumb and didn’t know a nail from a hole in the wall. I was basically just looking for a job.
“I needed money and that was the type of job I wanted back then.
“I didn’t know the zoo was there until I drove past it. I met Joe the first day I started.
“I don’t think I was vulnerable, as I came from a loving home. But it was the type of situation where you’re impressionable and you don’t know any better.
“Over here, we use the expression, ‘You try anything once’. A lot of people think I was taken advantage of but that wasn’t the case.
“I didn’t know any better and I thought it was what I wanted at the time. Joe did groom others but I wouldn’t say he groomed me.
“It was the animals that made the job appealing to me because I got to deal with tigers, lions, alligators, monkeys — all types from all over the world. Alligators were my favourite.
“How often do you get to see an ancient dinosaur that has survived millions of years and be able to mess with them?
“The only time it felt dangerous was at night. You are surrounded by man-eaters and at night you never know if they are out of the cage because you are walking around in the dark.”
John insists he had no idea big cats were being abused or slaughtered.
He said: “I didn’t see any animal cruelty, not to my knowledge.
“I treated the animals well until they hurt me. They would bite, slap and claw me and then I’d have to discipline them. If they bit me, I would bite them back. Why not?
“Looking back, when I started out I thought I was helping the animals and it was for the greater good. But there were other things being done no one knew about.
“I wish there was a point where I could have put a stop to it but that’s one of those hindsight things. I couldn’t stop it given that I didn’t know it was going on.”
Of Exotic, from whom he separated in 2015, John will only say: “Joe was judged by a jury of his peers and that’s where I am going to leave that. They found him guilty.
“He hasn’t tried to contact me and it’s time he moves on and everybody goes away and lives their own life, just like I’m doing.”
Neither does John wish to talk about the death of 23-year-old Travis Maldonado, who shot himself at the zoo in 2017.
‘FOCUSING ON THE POSITIVE’
John says: “I’m not one to focus on the negative. I prefer to focus on the positive and what’s better for me and the family and to try to help others.
“I’m way happier now and much healthier. The only drugs I take are the ones that are prescribed to me by the doctor.
“I’ve done a lot of charity work and I’ve been doing motivational speaking at different colleges to help people get off drugs.
“Am I going to be a part of the second Tiger King series? You will have to ask them that question.
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“I was happy to be a part of the first one.
“The only issues I had were the fake wedding and the fact they made me look like a drugged-up hillbilly.
“I don’t want to comment on how much money I had from Tiger King. I wasn’t in it for the money. I was in it for the fun.”