September 4, 2006

"Nothing would ever scare Steve or would worry him. He didn't have a fear of death at all."

Steve Irwin, killed not by a crocodile, but a stingray. It's quite unusual for a stingray to kill a person:
Irwin was swimming over the stingray during filming for a documentary when he was struck in the chest, the barb most likely piercing his heart.

Dr Bryan Fry, deputy director of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne, said stingray venom was "extraordinarily painful".

"If he was conscious he would have been in agony," Fry told Reuters.

Fry said stingray venom was a defensive weapon similar to that in stonefish but was not lethal. Serrated barbs on the stingray's tail would have delivered the fatal injury, he said.

"It's not the going in, it's the coming out," Fry said.

"They have these deep serrations which tear and render [sic] the flesh as it comes out," he said.
He was making a documentary that was said to be intended to demystify the stingray, and it seems the stingray had some mysteries that it chose to reveal in its own way.

ADDED: It occurs to me that Steve Irwin was the most enthusiastic person in the world, and that it's impossible to think of who would come in second. And then I realize that the reason I don't know who comes in second -- first, now -- is that people who have that level of enthusiasm are ordinarily tamped down by social pressure -- or, if they don't respond to social pressure, shunned or institutionalized. Or drugged. The extraordinary thing, then, is not that he was so over-the-top enthusiastic, but that he didn't annoy us into rejecting him. He actually made us happy. What a guy!

MORE: Lots of comments on Metafilter, including: "it's so weird that it only takes about five minutes after someone dies for their wikipedia page to go from 'is' to 'was'." Also, a link to a big article on Irwin in today's Sydney Morning Herald, published before the news of his death. Lots of good stuff, like:
With only his dog for company, he spent five years [in the mid-1980s] catching and relocating protected saltwater crocodiles that had become a threat to people in remote communities....

Irwin's feats of bushmanship and endurance during that time were astonishing. For months on end he lived like Tarzan, capturing enraged crocodiles with only net-traps and a small aluminium dinghy. "Mate," he whoops, "I was totally feral! I could run a wild pig down." The setting of each trap meant hauling a 120-kilo weight-bag high into the mangroves "while 5,000 green ants were biting on my eyeballs ... [later] I hadda get the croc into the boat, then from the boat to me truck, then into a crate. No-one could believe one person could do that, so Dad sent me up this video camera."

With the camera tied to a tree, or on the boat seat, Irwin recorded his horrifying ordeals. Every so often his grinning, mud-caked face would pop up before the lens. "Didja see that!" he'd holler, bug-eyed, before rushing off to deal with the next crisis.
It's interesting to read that, unlike Americans, Australians are put off by his expressive style, that they think the fun is in underplaying one's exploits. But I think Americans like underplaying too, when it's done well.

IN THE COMMENTS: Someone (inevitably) says he died doing what he loved, and Ruth Anne reminds me of this old post of mine talking about how people always say that, along with (humorous!) speculation about me dying while blogging and people saying that.


$CAV3NG3R said...

Great guy. He'll be missed.

AllenS said...

Always remember this: When you step into the ocean, you move to the bottom of the food chain.

Kathy said...

We haven't watched him in years, but my husband and I are both truly sad this morning. Steve Irwin was really a joyful person who loved what he did.

michael farris said...

I'm very sad for his wife and kids but not so much for him. He died doing what he loved and had been awfully lucky for a long time (skilled, yes, but lucky too). Ironic that he was killed by an animal that wasn't in even in the top ten most dangerous that he'd dealt with.

The first time I saw him on TV he was bothering a (forest?) cobra in Africa. The poor snake seemed like it just wanted to get away and eat rats but he was determined to get it on camera.
"Wot an agrayssive snike!" he as he pulled it from a tree by its tail.

Unknown said...

He annoyed me -- wow, that's a serious understatement.

Jennifer said...

What a great summation of the man. Wildly enthusiastic with an ability to draw MOST of us.

And here we go with the poor snake who didn't want to be bothered. The man was a renowned conservationalist whose life work did more than any other individual to raise awareness about animals that most of us either cared nothing for or actively despised. He fought for and won legislation protecting many of these animals.

Jennifer said...

draw most of us in.*

Laura Reynolds said...

I never got into his show. Enthusiastic is fine but I always felt he was trading "accuracy" for hype.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
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Jim Kenefick said...

"And then I realize that the reason I don't know who comes in second"

Richard Simmons. Or Little Richard. Six of one, half-dozen of the other who needs Adderall. :)

Jeff with one 'f' said...

We used to value understatement. Then came rock 'n roll and the enshrinment of teenaged tastes.

HaloJonesFan said...

Oh, I'm sure that if Steve Irwin had been an American we'd have considered him laughable at best and a scary freak at worst...more along the lines of that guy from Grizzly Man. But because he was a cute foreigner with a funny accent, his zany enthusiasm was endearing.

Zach said...

...more along the lines of that guy from Grizzly Man. But because he was a cute foreigner with a funny accent, his zany enthusiasm was endearing.

Houdini would be a better comparison. An odd character who does strange things, but it's somehow compelling because the strange things seem so integral to his personality.

I can't even think of who else would fit into the same category. Clyde Beatty, maybe.

JorgXMcKie said...

Good thing for him he grew up before everyone was being teste for ADD/hyperactivity, eh? He'd have been drugged to the eyeballs and about as active and enthusiastic as a throw rug.

I have a brother who was a great state trooper for 30+ years who was a little like Irwin. A great cop, and a totally over-active, irritating kid (and often an overactive and irritating adult). We should pause and remember, I think, how often these kids learn useful outlets for their energy. Irwin didn't, apparently, set out to become rich and famous. And, although I didn't pay much attention to him, he appears to have left the world a better place for his presence.

Go in Peace.

Beau said...

Blimey. What a fluke.

Sanjay said...

Given Irwin's oft-made comments on how the animals were only dangerous because we were invading their domain, I imagine that he'd be happy that if he had to die at the hands of a documentary animal, it'd be one that would swim away and probably face no repercussion -- after all, if it had been a croc, they'd probably have to shoot it.

Geez, a three-year old. How sad.

El Mas Chingón said...

A very sad day. This reminds me of when Formula 1 driver Gilles Villeneuve (Jacques' father) was killed at Zolder in 1982. Both of them were daredevils and the only difference between the two was that Gilles' injuries were caught on camera and replayed on ESPN later that afternoon here in the States.

HaloJonesFan said...

Sanjay: That's probably true. I imagine that his first thought (*) was "gee, I hope they don't kill that little bugger!"

(*) his first thought right after "ow!", that is

Tibore said...

Re: Gilles Villeneuve, Irwin, daredevils.

Let's not forget Ayrton Senna. And going back further, had not the response, late as it was, been so brave, Niki Lauda might have been on this list of dead drivers.

Thinking of daredevils... From racers like Villeneuve and Senna, to other sportsmen like the Spanish bullfighter Paquirri (Francisco Rivera Pérez) and the vast unknowns who frequent the Pamplona encierro, to Irwin himself for every animal other than a bull: There seems to be a class of folk not happy unless they're finding their own survival zone within dangerous activities. It's a bit condescending to just write them off as "adrenaline junkies"; while those highs are a factor, I honestly believe many of them find an intellectual pleasure in besting the danger. Racing requires analysis, and by that I also mean away from the race, and sometimes while not even in the car; ex NASCAR driver Rusy Wallace once voiced praise for Indy racer Danica Patrick's involvement with the race car setup in the garage, and he sort of implied that it should be a virtue of any serious driver. Bullfighters pride themselves on experience and their knowledge of the "art" of corrida de toros, their physical skills merely being tools to service the art. Irwin? Say what you will about the man - and I confess, in life, I found his TV persona sort of grating and annoying - but he knew his topic through and through, and those TV stunts, in retrospect, were less him showing off to others and more him geeking out over his subject material (I mean "geeking out" in a very positive sense, by the way; my computer-knowledgeable friends and I will often "geek out" over new technologies or particularly well thought out implementations of computer or network related subjects, sometimes for hours.). I no longer see those "wow's" and "crikey's" as affectations; rather, I now see them as genuine exclamations of delight at his subject material.

I may not have paid much attention to him in life, but I have to admit, he was doing -- no, reveling in something he clearly enjoyed. And that's simply not a thing I can bring myself to look down on.

Anonymous said...

This is genuinely sad, for two reasons.

One, a guy died.

Two, a risk-taker's risks finally caught up with him.

I admire risk-takers. You watch them and think, "Wow, that guy takes risks. Perhaps I should take more risks in my life."

Then, when one of them gets killed being risky, you think, "Maybe low-risk is the way to go."

Which is sad, because nothing of significance is ever achieved without risk.

Steve Irwin supposedly had no fear of death. If you have no fear, is a risk really a risk? Or is the real risk not taking the risk? Or are you just insane?

(Side Note: I have never been a fan of the board game, "Risk." I always lose. It's called "Risk," so I play risky, but's that's why I always lose. When I was kid, however, I did like that game that had the dice in the bubble, and you would role the dice by pressing down on the bubble. I didn't care about the game itself, I just liked the dice in the bubble.)

Richard said...

Ann, the second most enthusiastic individual on the planet is Matyhew Lesko.

Steve was actually much more tolerable.

JDM said...

I'm Australian, living perhaps an hour's drive from Steve Irwin's zoo.

Mr Irwin made it big in America first, and only really came to prominence in Australia 5-6 years ago.

As a young lawyer some 8-odd years ago I had to review a contract of Mr Irwin's with Discovery Channel. I knew who he was - vaguely - and was startled to see he was so popular in the US.

He will definately be missed. He was honest and open, and was passionate about his life. He was the ultimate example of "find a job you love doing and would do for free".

Ragnell said...

The current online debate to define Steve's legacy seems to be ranging between "that guy took unnessary insane risks" to your praise for his gift of laughter to the world. It's satisfying to note that far more reactions highlight the joyful memories he brought to his audience.

Irwin created a new niche in the dangerous careers category, yet other very hazardous careers don't equate insanity in the minds of the public.

Richard said...

I haven't watched him for years, and so am surprised at how incredibly sad I felt upon hearing the news about his death. He had an innocence and joy about him that reminded me of simpler times. He was having fun in days that seemed to never end. It's nice to think people like that still exist.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm surprised no one's pushed me on the point that the man always wore shorts. He dressed like a kid and acted like a kid -- but also like a very manly man. What can you say? He made himself a character, and dying so spectacularly only seals it for him. I feel sorry for his family, but as for him, he invented a thing to do and did it. He was looking to draw our attention to the stingray, and the stingray had its big day in all of history, taking out that guy with an insanely well-aimed shot, like that tail was evolved for this day.

AllenS said...

Ann said: "...that the man always wore shorts." He never messed with Wisconsin animals in January.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
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John Stodder said...

In addition to "dying doing what he loved," the other cliche is "had no fear of death." I don't even understand what that means. Does that mean he didn't fear dying? Death was okay with him? That suggests a strong attachment to a religion with an afterlife component; or alternately, a level of depression approaching suicidal indifference.

Or does it mean he did dangerous things and never stopped to think he might be killed by them? If so, that's hardly relevant here. Irwin getting killed by a poisonous ray is the equivalent (for a nature documentarian) of being hit by a bus. It is flukish and unexpected. What he was doing was technically dangerous in the sense that anyone who dives near the Great Barrier Reef is taking on greater risk than someone who stays in bed all day. But it wasn't nearly as dangerous as his most famous exploits.

I bet Irwin's "no fear" policy was limited to his handling of dangerous reptiles. He was confident that he had the requisite skill to do so safely, and was willing to accept the risk that he might die if he made a mistake. I doubt he had no fear of death generally. I'm sure he took normal precautions like wearing seatbelts and avoiding live electrical wires.

amba said...

His Australian accent was a big part of his charm for Americans -- like the Geico gecko (and did they create the latter in response to the former? or was it Crocodile Dundee?). He would have seemed much more overbearing without the accent.

I find his death a really fateful and eerie comeuppance, somewhat like the Grizzly Man's, although Irwin was a much more lovable and less deluded character and I don't feel any schadenfreude about his death as I did about the former after seeing just part of the film. Whenever we think we've made nature cute and approachable, watch out.

amba said...

I imagine a cartoon of a stingray with a thought balloon over its head saying,

"Demystify this!"

sonicfrog said...

Someone (inevitably) says he died doing what he loved

I'd rather "LIVE" doing what I loved...

Anonymous said...

A poor soul. May he rest in peace.

He was the modern equivalent of a carnival side-show performer, and we were nothing better than the gawking droolers who paid our nickel.

Since when is it civilized entertainment to watch a man (with young children) toy with, torment, tease, and manipulate extremely dangerous wild animals? After all, that's what he was doing. He wasn't a scientist or zoo keeper who studies animals. He was, for lack of a better word, a "showman," a throwback to the slaves forced to fight wild animals in gladitorial arenas. Except he got paid a lot of money.

Shame on the TV producers and networks for paying him and exploiting his very odd desire to tempt death. Shame on us for watching. What's next? Shall we watch soldiers defuse bombs from around the waists of suicide killers? How about bear baiting? Let's televise dog fights. I've already read news stories suggesting that the filmed footage of his death be televised. Yes, let's watch.

God help his widow and very young children. God help us, the voyeurs of death.

KCFleming said...

Re: "a throwback to the slaves forced to fight wild animals in gladitorial arenas"

Yeah, except for the slave part, and the forced part, and the galdiator part, and the fighting part, yeah, exactly like that.

monkeyboy said...
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monkeyboy said...

"He wasn't a scientist or zoo keeper who studies animals."

He was the head of the Australian Zoo, a man who spent his own money buying habitat, and long before he was famous, he was wandering the outback with his dog, trapping large dangerous crocs living near settlements, rather than see them killed.


DaveG said...

I'm reminded of a quote from one of my favorite movies, Grand Prix:

The danger?

Well, of course. But you are missing a very important point. I think if any of us imagined - really imagined - what it would be like to go into a tree at 150 miles per hour we would probably never get into the cars at all, none of us.

So it has always seemed to me that to do something very dangerous requires a certain absence of imagination.

DaveG said...

God help us, the voyeurs of death.

Please, speak for yourself.

I'm Full of Soup said...

2nd nost enthusisatic may be Mary Murphy- I think that is her name - she is a host on that show you like. I saw her on a commercial and thought she was a good replacement for Irwin's enthusiasm.

Boy, I am bad with names today- can't remember her last name or the title of that show you watch. Maybe that is what it should be called.

Anonymous said...

AllenS said: ""...that the man always wore shorts." He never messed with Wisconsin animals in January."

I have no doubt that, if he had ever messed with Wisconsin animals in January, that he would have worn shorts. I found him pretty annoying at first, but he won me over. I will miss him.

cb45 said...

i kno im a little late but i just want yall to kno that when i saw his movie i didnt like it much but it was because it wasnt like a real life situation. i always thought it was boring but i loved his sensativatity and enthusism. i was really sad when he died because even though i never watched his show he always enjoyed every thing he did. like a lot af yall said he died doing what he loved to do and thats good because he probably wanted to help and shoot documentaries and shows until he died. so he did. Steve Irwin is a real great guy and he had the guts to do the things he did. R.I.P Steve Irwin.

And for the people that maybe dont like him dont write a comment because you wouldnt want him saying that about any of you!