Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, was killed by a stingray while filming a documentary.

I remember seeing him some years ago for the first time. My father had been saying that there was this guy I had to see, this nature-show host who was basically crazy but also a real character. So we watched an episode together, one where he caught several crocs in Queensland. Those were always the best shows he did, I think, because he really seemed to understand crocodiles and his enthusiasm for them was unfeigned.

His snake episodes were also interesting but I was torn between awe and irritation at some of his antics around snakes. I was convinced until I was in high school that I was going to grow up to be a herpetologist. I kept several snakes while I was growing up, and I was always avidly interested in reptiles of all kinds. When I’m in a wilderness area now, whether North America or Africa, I’m often much more interested in seeing reptiles, amphibians and insects. So Steve Irwin with snakes was kind of enjoyable, but I also always thought, “that is really not a good idea” watching him mess around with venomous snakes. (Animal Planet’s Austin Stevens is way worse, though: I practically scream at him when he’s on the TV to just CUT IT OUT.)

After a while, Irwin’s shows got predictable, there was an element of schtick, even of desperation in a guy trying to top himself. But lately my daughter and I have been watching a new-format program that was built around him and his family, that’s really about the Australia Zoo, Irwin’s family, the zoo’s staff and its animals, and we’ve found it much more compelling than his old-style capers. Still, in whatever format, the guy was an unmistakeable character. This is a very sad thing, particularly because he was only 44, with two young children. I dread having to tell my daughter.

Update. Here’s an interesting interview with Irwin and some family and friends about the issues behind his career. One quote I expect a lot of people to be dredging up during the day:

“STEVE IRWIN: I had a similar incident with Graham [a crocodile] when he was younger and I was younger. I went in to lasso him. He grabbed me and pulled me in. He would have killed me if I hadn’t landed on his head. Here’s a weird thing most of us humans have, is, you know. Steve Irwin’s all pretty interesting on the telly or on the movie and that, but by crikey, it’s great when he gets bitten.

And now and again I do get bitten. But I haven’t been killed. And it’s that, you know, that sense of morbidity that people do have. There’s no use sticking your head in the sand and going, ‘Oh, no, they’re only here because, you know, I talk well.’ Nah, man, they wanna see me come unglued.”

The really sad irony of this is that it’s very rare from people to die from a stingray’s barb because usually people are stung on feet or a lower extremity. In this case, Irwin apparently died largely because the barb punctured his heart, and it sounds as if he was taking no extraordinary risks near the animal.

This entry was posted in Popular Culture. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Crikey!

  1. bbenzon says:

    I dread having to tell my daughter.

    Common, believable, and marvelous as well. That is, that your daughter should become so attached to this TV person. We are strange beasts, we are.

  2. Timothy Burke says:

    Well, it was less dreadful than I thought it would be.

    In fact, this was her reaction when her mom told her this morning that the Crocodile Hunter had died:

    “Do you mean him or his character?”

  3. it sounds as if he was taking no extraordinary risks near the animal.

    Rays aren’t aggressive: if it attacked him, then he was seriously crowding it.

    Unless you mean risks that weren’t extraordinary for him

  4. Endie says:

    Jonathan, according to the BBC there was a cameraman a few feet ahead of the ray, and Irwin was just to its right in water only a few feet deep. Even if the two were the only people around, in shallow water the ray was, apparently, feeling pretty crowded indeed. It turned left to get away and Irwin was always going to be at the business end when it did that.

    After a while, Irwin’s shows got predictable, there was an element of schtick, even of desperation in a guy trying to top himself.

    Does topping yourself have the same double meaning over there as here? Because that paints a dark but kinda funny picture.

  5. Timothy Burke says:

    Are we talking about topping as in S&M?

  6. Endie says:

    Nah, a “guy trying to top himself” is trying to commit suicide.

  7. Timothy Burke says:

    Nope, doesn’t mean that on this side of the pond. We’d say, “trying to off himself”.

    Definitely that makes this entry mean something different over there!

Comments are closed.