Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Steve Irwin, Croc Hunter and self proclaimed Wildlife Warrior, dies at 44.

I heard the news almost immediately after it happened. My wife and my brother and I were out at a bar having a rare opportunity to get away from the house. We came home close to 1:40 am on Monday morning, New York time, and my brother jumped on the computer to check news and email while we wound down from the night. Curiously he said, “The Crocodile Hunter died?” It was a matter of fact way to say it. I don’t think he knew that he was getting the news almost in real time.

At first I didn’t believe him; I thought it was a mistake. But it was true. The lovable, khaki wearing, “Aussie,” who got way too close to danger while clowning around with deadly animals, promoting his sincere agenda of raising awareness for nature, had died. Ironically, the animal that caused his death was not known to be very dangerous. The stingray’s tail, a defensive mechanism, while containing a poison, generally does not cause death in humans. According to reports, it was the bleeding that led to his death because the barb pierced his heart.

As the news sunk in, I became upset. I watched his shows and really liked him as a television personality. My children all watched him as well. He even starred with the Wiggles in a Croc Hunter special! Perhaps it was my inner child that mourned him. He was a very real guy. Even if he wasn’t really like his exuberant T.V. personality in real life, you go the sense that what you saw was the person he was. I expected that if I ever met him, I’d really like him, a lot. Also, he was star to children and the saddest thing is the fact that my kids would soon learn that their beloved “Croc Hunter” was dead.

The next day, I was with a few friends and the talk was not only of how sad it was to loose such an amazing personality but the fact that no one wanted to tell their children. At a barbeque that following day, a friend whispered to his wife, “Don’t talk about what we heard this morning on T.V.” Of course I knew exactly what he was talking about and I commiserated with them about how regretful it was to loose a guy like Steve Irwin.

So far I’ve not heard anyone say that he knew the risks, it was always a danger working with those animals. I wondered about that, because although it will come up, the initial reaction is total shock and loss. He seemed indestructible, invisible because he had such a connection, such respect, for the animals he worked with. He loved them and you sort of felt in some strange, childish way, that they knew it too and would never let harm come to such an advocate and friend.

The world of nature is cruel and unforgiving. That is the lesson we must take from this tragic event. It’s a lesson I’d rather forget. I’d rather live in a world where a guy like Steve Irwin goes into the deep jungle, wrestles with terrible beasts and survives every time, as happy-go-lucky as ever. But it is not true. Perhaps that is the thing I failed to capture when I first heard the news. The reason I grieved for him was not just a loss to the world, but a personal loss as well. Not that I knew the man, but I knew what he represented, what he meant to me. He symbolized the imaginary, the fantastic aspect of the real world of nature. He brought things to my home, my children, myself that I’d never have seen if he’d not been there to do it. And in such a way that made it easy, casual, funny and true.

The kids I spoke with, the ones old enough to have grown up watching him on T.V. but not too young to hear the news, all said the same thing. They feel for his wife and kids. My son, a very typical thirteen year old, who generally doesn’t think of anything but what affects his person, was the first to bring up the fact that he had two very young children. He felt bad for them.

This is another thing that we learned from Steve Irwin. He taught us compassion for others. These kids could have said, they miss him, or they can’t believe they won’t see him on T.V. anymore. The one thing they always worried about was his family. He was a superhero to these kids and they wondered what it would be like for his children to grow up without him around. You have to admit, he was a pretty cool Dad.

His great advocacy and respect for animals, despite their brutal nature showed us to respect the world. It showed our kids that you must think of things other than yourself. He brought out the best of us.

The people of Australia lost a great hero. The people of the world lost a great entertainer. Nature lost a great advocate. The self-proclaimed “Wildlife Warrior” has passed and I hope that we all can learn as much from his death as we did his life.

For more information on the man and his accomplishments see the Wikipedia entry on Steve Irwin, the official homepage of the Crocodile Hunter, his IMDB page, or various articles about him on the web.

The Sydney Morning Herald has an article here.

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