R.I.P. Crocodile Hunter
Even though I wrote a piece seven years ago casting doubt on the veracity of some of his onscreen antics, I couldn't help feel a pang of regret upon hearing of Steve Irwin's untimely demise today -- stung through the heart by a stingray while filming.
Survived by a wife and two young kids, Irwin was always taking the kind of chancesthat made more conventional animal experts shake their heads. Much as he advocated for nature and animals, twisting them around on camera with no protective gear was hardly the kind of image most experts wanted for their field.
"Woo hoo! Is this snake aggressive or what, mate?" Steve Irwin shouts, his Aussie accent somehow cranking up his enthusiastic delivery a few more notches. "Very toxic venom. And I tell you what . . . this snake is grumpy, by crikey!"
Given that Irwin is holding a 6-foot black Egyptian cobra by the tail - twisting the dangerous reptile like he's handling a rubber toy, it's easy to see why the animal might be a little, um, skittish.
Irwin won't let up easily. After all, as he dodges strikes from the cobra while he tries to hold it up for the camera, he's cementing a growing reputation as that crazy Australian guy who handles deadly animals with his bare hands.
Eventually, after a short discourse on its lethality and fierceness - "I have neh-vah seen a snake more aggressive than this in mah life!" a nearly delirious Irwin shouts at the camera - he lets the cobra go.
Some animals, it seems, are too dangerous even for the Crocodile Hunter to fool with very long.
"It was so riled up, by the time I got to it, I couldn't get anywhere near it," says Irwin, speaking by telephone from his office at the Australia Zoo in Queensland, where he serves as director. (Astute viewers can note that, during Irwin's Africa's Deadliest Snakes episode Monday night, he actually grabs the cobra's tail for several seconds).
"I wanted to do this and that with him, but he was so upset . . . I actually felt sorry for him," says Irwin, noting that vibrations from passing elephants may have spooked the reptile.
If you've never seen Irwin's death-defying interactions with dangerous animals, his Crocodile Hunter series on cable's Animal Planet channel can be oddly compelling - like Jack Hanna meets Evel Knievel in Crocodile Dundee's backyard.
Read more here.
UPDATE: MSNBC seems to have spent the most time discussing Steve's death among the three cable news channels. With Labor Day a typically slow news time, it's not surprising that a more tabloid-odriented MSNBC would spend so much time dissecting a celebrity's death.
Also, Animal Planet parent company Discovery Communications announced a 6 p.m. tribute to Irwin to air tonight on Animal Planet, along with other commemorative efforts.
Here's some of the text:
Steve was killed during a filming expedition for Animal Planet on the Great Barrier Reef. While we are still collecting specific details, it appears that this was a rare accident in which Steve swam over a stingray and was stung by its barb in his chest. A doctor on board Croc One, Steve's research vessel, was unable to resuscitate Steve, and by the time a rescue helicopter reached him, he had died.
DCI Founder and Chairman, John Hendricks said, "Steve was a larger than life force. He brought joy and learning about the natural world to millions and millions of people across the globe. He was a true friend to all of us at Discovery Communications. We extend our thoughts and prayers to Terri, Bindi and Bob Irwin as well as to the incredible staff and many friends Steve leaves behind."
DCI CEO and President Judith McHale said, "I don't think we will ever get over the loss of Steve Irwin, a human being of enormous feeling and irrepressible enthusiasm and dedication to everything he touched."
Discovery Networks, U.S. President Billy Campbell said, "The sense of loss we feel about Steve is shared by people around the world, evident by the hundreds of heartfelt condolences that have already flooded into Steve's fan site on Animalplanet.com."
Discovery Networks International President Dawn McCall, said, "Rarely has the world embraced an animal enthusiast and conservationist as they did Steve Irwin. Steve's passion for animals and leadership in conservation awareness leaves a powerful and lasting legacy across the globe." Outside the United States, Animal Planet is available in 160 countries in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East with programming customized in 24 languages.
Animal Planet in the United States will air special tribute programming beginning tonight at 6 p.m. ET/PT. The programming will highlight Steve's background, including his early days as the Croc Hunter, and his passion for wildlife and his family. On Sunday, September 10, Animal Planet U.S. plans to air an all-day marathon tribute featuring the Best of the Croc Hunter. Animal Planet International in markets around the world will provide the same programming.
To honor Steve and the enormous contribution he made to the world and to our company, DCI will rename the garden space in front of Discovery's world headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, the "Steve Irwin Memorial Garden."
DCI is planning to create the Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunter Fund, which it expects to affectionately call "The Crikey Fund." The Fund will be established to honor Steve's passion and exuberance for conservation and the animal kingdom and is expected to provide a way for people from across the globe to make contributions in Steve's honor to support wildlife protection, education and conservation. The Fund will provide support to Steve's Australia Zoo in Beewah, Australia, as well as educational support for his children, Bindi and Bob Irwin.
Steve Irwin was the world's best-known wildlife crusader. As the Crocodile Hunter, Steve became a household name, and his television adventures have been seen around the globe. In 2002, he starred in the feature film, The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course and appeared on numerous popular television talk shows. Throughout his high international profile, Steve's commitment to wildlife always remained paramount.
His passion to protect the world's most endangered and threatened species could be traced back to his parents, conservationists and animal lovers Bob and Lyn Irwin, the founders of Australia Zoo. As a young boy, Steve helped Bob rescue and relocate crocodiles in the rivers of North Queensland. The father-and-son team was proud to say that over 100 crocodiles living at Australia Zoo were either caught by them or bred and raised in the zoo.
In his 20s, Steve volunteered his services to the Queensland government's rogue crocodile relocation program, living alone for years in the mosquito-infested creeks, rivers and mangroves of North Queensland.
In 1992, Steve and his friend, television producer John Stainton, created a distinctive new style of wildlife documentary. That one-hour program, The Crocodile Hunter, featured Steve, his new wife, American wildlife caretaker Terri Raines, and the animals of Far North Queensland. Steve's boisterous charm, unconventional style and extraordinary daring, combined with Terri's wit and composure in dangerous situations and their amazingly close encounters with such potentially deadly creatures as crocodiles, venomous snakes and spiders, made The Crocodile Hunter a worldwide hit.
In addition to The Crocodile Hunter series, Steve and Terri filmed 53 episodes of the Emmy Award-nominated Croc Files, The Crocodile Hunter Diaries, a behind-the-scenes look at Steve's daily life at Australia Zoo, and New Breed Vets, a series highlighting the cutting-edge veterinarian science.
As testimony to their commitment to conservation and the environment, Steve and Terri purchased over 60,000 acres of wildlife-sensitive land and worked the rehabilitation and breeding of some of the world's most endangered animals. At Australia Zoo, they established a breeding program to help such endangered species as the southern cassowary, koala, giant land tortoise, Fijian crested iguana and Komodo dragon, to name just a few. The zoo, a dedicated conservation area covering over 250 acres, earned Australia's most prestigious tourism award as "Major Tourist Attraction" for 2003. Steve was recently awarded the title "2004 Queensland Australian of the Year."