A Texas voice
Everyone, it seems, knew of Steve Irwin, if not by name then certainly as the "Crocodile Hunter" or "that crazy, excitable Australian guy who's always jumping away from crocodiles, snakes and spiders at the last second."
Everyone knows by now that Irwin, 44, died several days ago while filming a program about Australia's Great Barrier Reef. He was swimming above a stringray that became frightened and lashed out with its long, barbed tail. Stingray attacks are rare, we're told, and are usually in self-defense. Furthermore, the chances of one being fatal, although it will be quite painful, are incredibly rare. Irwin, however, took a direct hit to the heart and died within minutes.
His death was big news, not only because of his immense popularity, of course, but also due to how he died. He made his name risking death.
Indeed, the first time I really watched him was his 1998 show, "The Ten Deadliest Snakes in the World." His trademark seemed to be getting closer than was safe to a dangerous situation and then jumping back at the last second, crying out, "Crikey."
On a mission
The most notable aspect of Irwin's shows was his passion. He obviously loved what he was doing, and he surely loved nature and felt his mission was to pass that on to others.
When Scientific American asked him why he was so popular, he quipped that it had nothing to do with his looks and then said, "You know what I reckon it is? My belief is that what comes across on the television is a capture of my enthusiasm and my passion for wildlife."
He was then asked what his "zany attitude" does for viewers.
"It excites them, which helps me to educate. I believe that education is all about being excited about something. Seeing passion and enthusiasm helps push an educational message. That's the main aim in our entire lives is to promote education about wildlife and wilderness areas, save habitats, save endangered species, etc. So, if we can get people excited about animals, then by crikey, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to save them."
Sure, his field of education was nature and conservation, but it really exceeds that, doesn't it? Isn't there a message in his short life about living?
It is always difficult to understand the unexpected death of someone who is so excited by life. However, it's almost as if that person squeezed in life at high speed in order to capture as much as possible. Meanwhile, so many of us spend most of our time worrying about the number of years we will get instead of milking all we can out of the present.
Irwin lived in the present. and he understood the risks he took.
"But I put my life on the line to save animals," he said later in the interview. "I have no fear of losing my life - if I have to save a koala or a crocodile or a kangaroo or a snake, mate, I will save it."
And his saving of animals will extend beyond his life. Surely, untold numbers of people have charted courses that include conservation and wildlife preservation only because of Steve Irwin's influence.
Steve Martaindale is a self-syndicated columnist. Write him at penmanmailsteve@ yahoo.com.