When Australian zookeeper and television personality Steve Irwin tragically died in 2006, the whole world mourned his death. At that point he was not only a national treasure to the Land Down Under, but a verified global icon.
His enthusiasm for wildlife was infectious and introduced an entire generation to the concept of environmental conservation in a way that tapped into the mainstream zeitgeist and hasn’t been matched yet.
Kids around the world in the late 90s and early 2000s switched on their TVs to tune into the seemingly never-ending adventures of The Crocodile Hunter. Even reruns of the spunky host and his catchphrase “Crikey!” pulled in massive ratings.
But behind all of the crocodile wrestling and snake handling was a man with true love for animals and his family. That passion touched touched the lives of millions of people and critters alike, which made his untimely death all the more painful.
By now, most people know the terrible details surrounding Irwin’s final moments. He was killed in a freak accident involving a stingray while filming for the wildlife documentary series Ocean’s Deadliest in the Great Barrier Reef.
He had been swimming above a short-tail stingray when it suddenly stabbed him with its sharp tail, piercing a barb directly through his heart.
Contrary to popular belief, he did not pull the barb out. According to Irwin’s friend and key witness of the incident, Justin Lyons, at first he thought the barb had punctured one of his lungs.
However, he was bleeding considerably – losing large amounts of blood at an alarming rate. Upon quickly surfacing and returning to his boat, Irwin seemed to realize the seriousness of the situation.
As his friend comforted him and encouraged him to get his mind off of the wound by thinking of his children, Steve Irwin’s spark was noticeably fading.
It was in those final moments when he looked at his friend and uttered his final words.
After years of entertaining and educating the world with his wholesome brand of wildlife conservation, Steve Irwin’s life flashed before his eyes. His wedding day with Terri Irwin. The birth of his two children, Bindi and Robert Irwin. Overseeing the Australia Zoo. Meeting Hollywood actors like Robert Downey Jr.
Every moment of the legacy he built and would soon leave behind. All ending with those last, telling words. “I’m dying.”
Although he had an extraordinary threshold for pain, his friend could see this time was different. The pain of the stingray’s poison pulsing through his heart was nothing compared to the pain of knowing he would never see his family again.
Still, he faced his end with his usual bravery and his legacy continues. His wife Terri and children Robert and Bindi, now all grown up, have not only maintained the zoo and taken care of the animals he left behind, but have also continued spreading his message to prevent the extinction of wildlife worldwide.
His son Robert Irwin even sat down with Robert Downey Jr. in a recent interview to promote his new film Dolittle.
Rest easy, Steve. You may be gone, but you’ll never be forgotten.