Back in the day, having an animal entertainer hired on as a main cast member in a film or television show pretty common. Mister Ed, Lassie, Flipper, and more recently PBS’s Wishbone are just a few famous examples of popular TV shows that featured four-legged, finned, or hooved leads. In the 90s especially live-action films like Homeward Bound and Babe kept this age-old tradition alive on the big screen.
In 1979, another popular television series featuring an animal companion in a leading role, BJ and the Bear, premiered on NBC. The show starred Greg Evigan as Billie Joe “BJ” McKay. An itinerant freelance trucker who traveled across the nation in his red and white Kenworth K-100 Aerodyne semi truck with his faithful furry friend. Bear – a chimpanzee named after famed University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant.
The show made at the peak of the CB radio and trucking craze that swept across the US following the success of the 1974 television series Movin’ On, the hit 1975 C.W. McCall song Convoy, and the films Smokey and the Bandit, White Line Fever, and Convoy.
BJ and the Bear initially met with positive critical reception and high ratings. But after declining viewership, the series canceled in 1981 after airing three seasons.
The quirky series would be Greg Evigan’s most prominent role of his career. He got his start acting in theater, making his Broadway debut in a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. He followed that up with a starring role in a stage production of the musical Grease playing the lead, Danny Zuko.
Evigan’s Hollywood debut was in the 1978 feature film Scorchy. While that movie is seldom remembered, it did help him land his memorable role in BJ and the Bear. Following the cancelation of that series, Evigan continued to appear on numerous television shows throughout the 80s and 90s, including My Two Dads, TekWar, Melrose Place, and 7th Heaven.
From the 2000s onward, Evigan has appeared in films and television series like Big Sound, Mel, Arizona Summer, 6 Guns, and General Hospital.
While Evigan has managed to keep his acting career alive for the last several decades. He fully realizes that his role on BJ and the Bear is the one that most people remember him for. Even so, he seems to believe that the show couldn’t made today. Join Facts Verse as we reveal why Evigan thinks that BJ and the Bear DEFINITELY wouldn’t well-received in modern times.
The late-1970s comedy series about the trucker who roamed America’s highways and bi-ways alongside his banana-loving bipedal animal companion, Bear. It is who enjoyed wearing a dapper hat, probably wouldn’t made today due to animal rights concerns.
Talking to entertainment outlet Page Six, Evigan shared that the ape actor unfortunately didn’t enjoy a peaceful retirement. Greg said that, looking back on things, he wishes that he had known more than he had so that he could have tried harder to ensure that Bear had a better life after the show ended.
The 68 year-old actor went on to explain that the trainer that brought in to work on the show had the animal had for a while. But the thing about chimps is, that when they grow up. They’re about the same size as people and end up being challenging to handle.
Evigan feels that that that explains why there aren’t many TV shows like BJ and the Bear anymore. Because, in his opinion, it can be cruel to have animals in captivity when they should ideally be left alone in the wild.
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Stay tuned to find out not only what happened to the chimp actor that starred on BJ and the Bear. But also where the show’s iconic truck ended up.
The Chimp Involved In A Gruesome Attack
A man named St. James Davis adopted an orphaned chimp he found while on a safari in Africa about four decades ago. When he found the animal, he had no idea that their relationship would eventually lead to disastrous and traumatic consequences.
An article published by ABC News in 2005 reported that Davis, who was then 62. In a medically induced coma in California after his nose had chewed off and his limbs and genitals mauled in a violent encounter at a wildlife preserve earlier that year.
Davis and his wife, LaDonna, had visited the preserve to see the chimp they adopted when two other male male chimpanzees suddenly attacked them. The largest male chimp took off Davis’ nose and viciously thrashed this body while the smaller one went after his feet. All his wife could do while the attack was happening was scream in horror.
Eventually a ranch hand stepped in and shot the two chimps – killing both of them.
The Davis’ relationship with the chimps began happily enough. After St. James brought the orphaned ape home, one of the first people to meet him was LaDonna. The couple named the chimp Moe, and he quickly became like a member of the young couples’ family.
Evidently, Moe even served as ring bearer at their wedding. Just like a child, Moe would sleep in their bed. Dine at their table and would even make PB&Js for his human parent’s whenever they got hungry.
Moe was like a son to them. LaDonna had to have a hysterectomy at an early age after about with cancer. So clearly, the chimp filled some sort of deep psychological void.
Eventually, Moe’s popularity spread beyond the Davises’ town of West Corvina, California. After Hollywood talent scouts caught wind of his unique abilities. Moe one of several chimps cast in BJ and the Bear.
Years later, in 1998, things started taking a dark turn for Moe and the Davises after Moe jumped from his cage and ran into the neighborhood. After accidentally receiving an electric shock, some friends of the Davis family managed to calm him down. But after the police showed up, Moe spooked once again and proceeded to first attack the squad car. Then the officer.
Animal control officers called in and had to subdue Moe with a tranquilizer gun. After which, Moe was allowed to return to his cage.
A year later, however, Moe bit a woman’s finger – nearly taking it off. After that incident, the people of West Corvina felt like ‘enough was enough’ and demanded that Moe removed from the neighborhood.
Law enforcement charged the Davises with ‘harboring a dangerous animal’ and proceeded to hold Moe in custody as evidence. After a long, drawn-out legal battle, the charges eventually dropped. But Moe ordered to moved to a sanctuary called the Animal Haven Ranch. The facility, about 30 miles east of Bakersfield, California, housed several other retired chimpanzee actors at the time.
It was a compromise that LaDaonna and St. James felt comfortable with. But things took a horrifying turn on that fateful day in March 2005 when the couple went to pay a visit to their old friend Moe to celebrate his 39th birthday.
The Davises brought Moe a bag of treats and some chocolate milk. And at first, everything was going well until LaDonna realized that other animals were loose in the enclosure. 1 female and 2 males approached the couple, and suddenly the two males attacked.
Before she knew what happening, LaDonna’s thumb bitten off. But it would be her husband who would receive the worst of the attack. After the ranch hand shot one of the males, he had to return back to a house to get more bullets. In the meantime, St. James dragged another 30 or so feet while aggressively mauled before the ranch hand returned and shot the other male.
Davis eventually came out of his coma but left with horrific scars that he will take with him to the grave. Since the attack, he has done his best to warn others about the dangers of keeping chimps in captivity. As of 2022, St James Davis is still alive. Most recently, he appeared in the 2020 History channel special Monsterquest in which he shared his harrowing experience.
The Truck Is Still Truckin’
Moe and his former human companions met an awful fate. The semi truck featured on BJ and the Bear has since been restored and has been traded to multiple owners.
In 2007, a man named Craig Sagehorn bought the 1980 Kenworth and rebuilt it. The truck was originally tracked down and sold to Sageborn by someone named Mike Johnson. Craig was restoring the interior. He found an inscription reading ‘BJ and the Bear by WS’ under a mess of rust where the fifth wheel had been welded.
Craig used the truck mainly for local hauls. Whenever he was out and about, he says that people would come up to him to thank him for maintaining a piece of pop culture history.
In 2008, a fan named Chris Andreychick bought the truck from Sagehorn. In 2012, it was sold once again. It’s unclear exactly how it got back into the Sagehorn family. But today the truck appears to be in the hands of Craig’s son Paul.
Paul takes the rig to events and conventions and sells a line of BJ and the Bear merchandise and clothing on his website.
It’s pretty shocking to learn what became of Moe. The chimpanzee who played Bear on BJ and the Bear, but maybe Greg Evigan is right. Animals like Moe should probably just be left in nature where they are meant to be.
Are you a fan of BJ and the Bear? And were you aware that the chimp that played the titular animal star of the show involved in a brutal attack in 2005? Let us know in the comments.
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