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Carole Baskin denies joking about missing husband Don Lewis' disappearance

Baskin's comments come in response to a defamation lawsuit filed by Lewis' family.
/ Source: TODAY

Carole Baskin denies she has ever made jokes about the disappearance of her late husband Don Lewis, despite a new defamation lawsuit from Lewis' family members accusing her of doing just that.

According to court documents obtained by TODAY, the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday by Lewis' daughters and his former assistant, Anne McQueen, claims that Baskin, who's competing on "Dancing with the Stars" this season, was "complicit with jokes" about her former husband's death on "DWTS" when the show's judges "brought up TikTok videos inspired by her storyline in 'Tiger King.'"

The lawsuit claims that Baskin didn't condemn or correct the comments about Lewis while on "DWTS," and was later complicit in jokes about Lewis again when she told "Good Morning America" she'd "really kill it next week" on the reality dance competition.

Baskin is currently competing on season 29 of "Dancing With the Stars."Photo Illustration/ABC via Getty Images

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"I do not joke about the loss of my late husband Don Lewis," Baskin, who was featured in Netflix's docuseries "Tiger King," told TODAY in a statement.

"It's a stretch for anyone to say that because I use the common phrase of 'killing it' that it refers to Don since I believe he crashed an experimental plane over the gulf due to his own failing mental capacity. I didn't kill him or have him killed, so there's no way I'd associate losing him with that word or concept," she continued.

"Any Tiger King reference to killing or murder is strictly based on the fact that so many animal abusers have tried unsuccessfully to kill me either by rallying their minions or hiring hit men," she said, adding that she'd turned down requests on Cameo, a website that lets users hire celebrities to deliver personalized video messages, to say "unkind" things about Lewis.

"People can't even pay me to joke about the tragic loss of my husband and best friend at the time," said Baskin.

Baskin in the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King."NETFLIX

The Big Cat Rescue founder and CEO also claimed that she was "the only person" in Lewis' life that tried "to get him to a medical specialist after he'd been diagnosed as Bi-polar with Altered Mental States just 2 months before he went missing. "

Baskin also claimed Lewis revealed to her that McQueen and business associate Wendell Williams told him that Baskin "was trying to have him committed." Baskin alleges the duo were "were profiting off his diminished capacity."

Baskin made her "DWTS" debut earlier this month, with Lewis' family members running a commercial during the episode asking for information about his disappearance. The family previously hired a lawyer and launched an independent investigation offering $100,000 in exchange for information to help solve the case.

Lewis vanished in 1997 a day before a scheduled trip to Costa Rica. He was declared legally dead in 2002. He and Baskin started the animal sanctuary, which later became Big Cat Rescue Corp. in Tampa, Florida. Baskin has repeatedly denied any involvement with Lewis' disappearance.

The "Tiger King" docuseries's main storyline focuses on the rivalry between Baskin and Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage — aka “Joe Exotic.”

Maldonado-Passage frequently accused Baskin of murdering Lewis and feeding him to her tigers, while she countered with accusations that he was abusing his animals. Maldonado-Passage is serving a 22-year prison sentence after being convicted on two counts of murder-for-hire last year for paying $3,000 to a hit man to kill Baskin.