Steve Irwin, the famed Crocodile Hunter, died with his boots on over the weekend.
Irwin died doing what he loved best, getting too close to one of the dangerous animals he dedicated his life to protecting with an irrepressible, effervescent personality that propelled him to global fame.
The 44-year-old Irwin’s heart was pierced by the serrated, poisonous spine of a stingray as he swam with the creature today while shooting a new TV show on the Great Barrier Reef, his manager and producer John Stainton said.
Marine experts called the death a freak accident. They said rays reflexively deploy a sharp spine in their tails when frightened, but the venom coating the barb usually just causes a very painful sting for humans.
“It was extraordinarily bad luck,” said Shaun Collin, a University of Queensland marine neuroscientist. “It’s not easy to get spined by a stingray, and to be killed by one is very rare.”
Maybe karma finally caught up with him. Anyone who’s watched a few episodes of his TV show knows that he’s had more than a few close calls in his career. This time he wasn’t so lucky.
Conservationists said all the world would feel the loss of Irwin, who turned a childhood love of snakes and lizards and knowledge learned at his parents’ side into a message of wildlife preservation that reached a television audience that reportedly exceeded 200 million.
“He was probably one of the most knowledgeable reptile people in the entire world,” Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, told ABC’s Good Morning America.
He was a committed conservationist, running a wildlife park for crocodiles and other Australian fauna, including kangaroos, koalas and possums, and using some of his TV wealth to buy tracts of land for use as natural habitat.
Say what you want about Irwin’s style, and about some of the choices he may have made. From where I stand, he did a hell of a lot of good for the cause of conservation, and for making all kinds of animals normally considered nuisances or dangerous less threatening to skittish humans. He put his money where his mouth was, and he died the way he lived, doing what he loved. The world could use more people like that. Rest in peace, Steve Irwin.