Wednesday, September 06, 2006
I'll really miss this guy!!! RIP Steve Irwin
With his trademark khaki shorts, chirpy manner and an obvious love of wildlife, Steve Irwin was known to television viewers around the world simply as "the crocodile hunter".
But Steve Irwin's popular image, wrestling crocs and other creatures, belied the fact that he was implacably opposed to the hunting, not just of crocodiles, but of any animal.
A natural showman as well as a conservationist and zoo owner, Irwin was committed to educating people about wildlife.
He often did this by putting himself at great risk, confronting crocodiles, venomous snakes and other dangerous beasts in their own environment. This fascinating television was often punctuated by his trademark yell of "Crikey!"
But his unconventional approach drew criticism from those who believed his idiosyncratic style to be irresponsible and cavalier.
Steve Irwin was born in Essendon in Victoria, Australia, in February 1962. In 1970, his parents founded the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park, later to become Australia Zoo, on the country's Sunshine Coast.
The park specialised in rehabilitating ill or injured baby kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and koalas, and Steve Irwin grew up surrounded by wildlife.
When his father, Bob, decided to do something about the hunting which threatened to destroy Australia's crocodile population, Steve played his part, working for Australia's Crocodile Relocation Programme which captured and moved the reptiles to safer areas, often to the Australia Zoo.
When television director John Stainton first encountered Steve Irwin, while shooting an advertisement at Australia Zoo, he immediately realised that he had a new star on his hands.
The first episode of Stainton's show, The Crocodile Hunter, was built around a crocodile trapping trip that Irwin and his Oregon-born wife Terri Baines undertook for their honeymoon.
Discovery Channel bought the programme in 1996 and it rapidly became a phenomenon, being screened in 130 countries and bringing both Stainton and Irwin great wealth.
In January 2004, Irwin faced a barrage of criticism after being filmed holding his infant son in one arm while feeding a chicken carcass to a 4-metre saltwater crocodile with the other. At the time, he said: "I was in complete control of the crocodile."
Despite his often light-hearted manner, Steve Irwin's commitment to protecting crocodiles was serious. "Every chance I get, I will put my life on the line to save crocs," he told one interviewer.
Irwin's other programme The Croc Files, The Crocodile Hunter Diaries and New Breed Vets, were also great hits, especially in the United States, and he was feted by television interviewers like Jay Leno, Larry King and Oprah Winfrey.
He even played a cameo role in the 2001 Eddie Murphy film, Dr Doolittle 2, before hitting the big screen the following year with his own movie, The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course.
And a measure of Steve Irwin's fame came when Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, who described him as "one of Australia's great conservation icons," personally invited the environmentalist to a barbecue for President George W Bush in Canberra in 2003.