The world has lost a great wildlife icon, a passionate conservationist and one of the proudest Dads on the planet. He died doing what he loves best and left this world in a happy and peaceful state of mind. Crocs Rule!
John Stainton, Steve’s producer and closest friend
22 February 1962 4 September 2006
Stephen Robert “Steve” Irwin was best known for the television program The Crocodile Hunter, an unconventional wildlife documentary series which he hosted with his wife Terri Irwin. Irwin’s personality and outrageous antics in the series made him an international celebrity. He also owned and operated the Australia Zoo at Beerwah in Queensland.
Born in Essendon, a suburb of Melbourne, Steve Irwin moved with his parents as a child to Queensland. His parents, Bob and Lyn, ran the small Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park, where Steve grew up around crocodiles and other reptiles. He became a crocodile trapper, removing crocodiles from near populated areas, performing the service for free with the quid pro quo that he kept them for the park.
Rise to fame
In 1991, Steve took over the running of the park, renamed the “Australia Zoo”, and in 1992 met (at the park) and married Terri. The footage, shot by John Stainton, of their crocodile-trapping honeymoon became the first episode of The Crocodile Hunter, which became wildly successful in America.
Under Steve’s expansive leadership, the operations grew to include the zoo, the television series, The Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation, and International Crocodile Rescue. Improvements to his Australia Zoo include the Animal Planet Crocoseum, the rainforest aviary, and Tiger Temple.
Film and other projects
In 2001, Steve appeared in a cameo role in the Eddie Murphy film Dr. Dolittle 2. In 2002, his first feature film, The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, was released. In general, reviews of this film were negative. In 2003 Irwin was reportedly in line to host a chat show on Australian network television, a series that never eventuated.
Steve feeding a crocodile at Australia Zoo.
In January 2006 as part of Australia Week celebrations in the USA, Steve appeared at the Pauley Pavilion, UCLA Los Angeles, California. During an interview on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Steve announced that Discovery Kids will be developing a show for his daughter, Bindi Sue. The show, Jungle Girl, was tipped to be similar to The Wiggles movies, with songs that surround a story.
A feature-length episode of Australian kids TV show The Wiggles entitled “Wiggly Safari” appears dedicated to Steve, and he features in it heavily with his wife and daughter. The show includes the song “Crocodile Hunter, Big Steve Irwin”.
On Saturday 24 June 2006, one of the oldest tortoises living in Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo, died of heart failure. The tortoise, Harriet, was 176 years old and was considered part of Irwin’s family. Harriet was thought to have belonged to Charles Darwin.
Steve Irwin was active in politics and was a supporter of the conservative Liberal Party of Australia. In particular, he strongly supported the incumbent Prime Minister John Howard.
Shortly after 11:00 am local time on 4 September 2006, Irwin was fatally pierced in the chest by a short-tail stingray barb while diving in Queensland’s Batt Reef, which is part of the Great Barrier Reef. The events were caught on camera. Irwin was in the area filming his own documentary, to be called The Ocean’s Deadliest, but weather had stalled filming. Irwin decided to take the opportunity to film some shallow water shots for a segment in the television program his daughter Bindi was hosting, when, according to his friend and colleague John Stainton, he swam too close to one of the animals. “He came on top of the stingray and the stingray’s barb went up and into his chest and put a hole into his heart,” said Stainton, who was on board Irwin’s boat at the time.
After reviewing the footage of the incident and speaking to the cameraman who recorded it, marine documentary filmmaker and fisherman Ben Cropp speculated that the stingray “felt threatened because Steve was alongside and there was the cameraman ahead…” In such a case, the stingray responds by automatically flexing the serrated barb on its tail up to a maximum of 25 cm (10 inches) of length.
“He came over the top of a stingray that was buried in the sand, and the barb came up and hit him in the chest,” Stainton said. Cropp said Irwin had accidentally boxed the animal in. “It stopped and twisted and threw up its tail with the spike, and it caught him in the chest. It’s a defensive thing. It’s like being stabbed with a dirty dagger.” The Bull Ray that stung Irwin was “a one-in-a-million thing,” Cropp told Time magazine. “I have swum with many rays, and I have only had one do that to me.”
In this case, the motion struck Irwin’s chest and pierced his heart. This was only the third known fatality in Australian history from a stingray attack, only 17 worldwide fatalities have taken place since 1996, and it is believed to be the only fatal attack ever captured on film.
Crewmembers aboard his boat called emergency services in the nearest city of Cairns and administered CPR as they rushed the boat to nearby Low Isle to meet a rescue helicopter. Medical staff pronounced Irwin dead when they arrived a short time later. The barb lodged in his chest and the toxins of the barb caused Irwin to die of cardiac arrest.
Steve Irwin is survived by Terri Irwin (married in 1992) and his two children: a daughter, Bindi Sue Irwin (born 24 July 1998), and a son, Robert (Bob) Clarence Irwin (born 1 December 2003). Bindi Sue is jointly named after two of Steve’s dogs: Bindi, who was accidentally killed by a hunter, and Sui, who died in June 2004.
- Add your own tribute to Steve – on our website
- The Crocodile Hunter – Steve and Terri’s Irwin’s website
- Wildlife Warriors – Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors Worldwide