Steven Robert Irwin, the popular Australian TV personality known as “The Crocodile Hunter,” was killed by a stingray on Sept. 4. He was 44.
Born in a suburb of Melbourne, Steve was the son of naturalists Bob and Lyn Irwin. He was always passionate about the study and care of animals and grew up working at his parents’ wildlife park, the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park in Beerwah, Australia. As a young man, Irwin made a name for himself in the government’s rogue crocodile relocation program by safely capturing and transporting dozens of “problem crocs” without causing the animals any harm.
The passionate conservationist transformed his parents’ wildlife refuge into a major tourist attraction known as the Australia Zoo. In 1991, while giving a crocodile demonstration there, Irwin met his future wife and co-star Terri Raines. Steve and Terri wed six months later and spent their honeymoon on location, shooting the first episode of “The Crocodile Hunter” series. They had two children, daughter Bindi Sue, 8, and son Robert (Bob) Clarence, 2.
“The Crocodile Hunter” premiered in Australia in 1992 and was quickly picked up by the Discovery Network for its Animal Planet channel. Wearing khaki shirts and shorts and an ever-present grin, Irwin would cut through forests, dive into open waters and trek into the Outback in order to share examples of exotic, and often dangerous, animals. His enthusiasm for wildlife was infectious, as was his catchphrase “Crikey!” which he used whenever one of the animals became a bit rambunctious during filming.
Knowledgeable and ebullient, Irwin was known for jumping onto the backs of untethered crocodiles and poking sticks at venomous serpents to make them more visible to the camera. Even as he enthralled the audience with his seemingly reckless behavior, the blond showman always provided pertinent information about the animals and encouraged viewers to avoid such daredevil antics. Over the next 14 years, more than 200 million people in 120 countries tuned in to watch Irwin’s close encounters with potentially deadly creatures.
In addition to “The Crocodile Hunter,” Irwin worked on “Croc Files,” an Emmy Award-nominated educational program for children, “The Crocodile Hunter Diaries,” a behind-the-scenes look at his daily life at the Australia Zoo and “New Breed Vets,” a show about veterinarians who use pioneering life-saving techniques in the animal kingdom. He also starred in the 2002 feature film, “The Crocodile Hunters: Collision Course.”
To support the protection of injured, threatened or endangered wildlife, the Irwins founded Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors Worldwide (previously known as the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation). They also purchased more than 60,000 acres of wildlife-sensitive land so the property would remain undeveloped and in its natural state.
Irwin’s larger-than-life public image was slightly dented in 2004 when a local TV news crew appeared at the zoo and shot video of him feeding a large crocodile while holding his infant son. Irwin took to the airwaves and proclaimed his innocence, saying the boy was never in any danger, and authorities refused to charge him with violating safety regulations or endangering the welfare of a minor. That same year, he was named the “Queensland Australian of the Year.”
Irwin was filming underwater footage in the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of northeastern Queensland, on Monday when he apparently startled a stingray. The marine animal reacted by swinging its tail at Irwin and embedding a poisonous barb into his chest. Crew members aboard the boat, Croc One, pulled Irwin from the water and administered CPR, but to no avail. Irwin’s manager John Stainton said the fatal blow was caught on camera, however Queensland state police are holding onto the tape as evidence for a coroner’s inquiry.
To honor his legacy, the Discovery Network plans to create a “Steve Irwin Memorial Sensory Garden” in front of its Silver Spring, Md., headquarters, and broadcast a full day of Irwin-related programming later this week. The network also plans to start the Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunter Fund, a.k.a. “The Crikey Fund,” to support wildlife protection, education and conservation at the Australia Zoo, and to fund his children’s education.
[Animal Planet will run a 15-hour marathon of programming devoted to Irwin on Sept. 17. "Croc Rules! Remembering Steve Irwin" will feature some of Irwin's best programs, interviews with celebrities and crew members who knew Irwin and promotions for his Wildlife Warriors conservation fund.]