Sad news out of Australia...Steve Irwin, the "Crocodile Hunter" as he was known on television, died when a stingray's barb hit him in the heart as he was snorkeling off the north coast of Queensland (up near the Great Barrier Reef).
Now, mostly everyone in America knows him as the shampooing crazy bloke who would yell "crickey!" and then tackle a 14-foot crocodile, reminding us to "take a look at this beauty."
But he was much more than that. He dedicated himself to the preservation of the natural habitat of many species of wildlife. What Dian Fossey was to gorillas, Jacques Cousteau to fish and other ocean dwellers (ironically enough, Irwin was diving with Phillipe Cousteau, Jacques' grandson), Irwin was to Australia's creatures and natural habitats.
His parents ran a small Queensland zoo and Irwin learned his craft from being around large reptiles his whole life.
But his crowning achievement was the Australia Zoo - a place I was lucky enough to visit last year, even taking in a live show with Irwin and his wife Terri (see photo at top of page).
The zoo - the best I've ever been to - had animals in their natural habitats and while they were in captivity (you don't really need to mingle with a 17-foot crocodile...you really don't), they were there for good reasons. Not that you're going to warm up to the aforementioned 17-foot croc, but you grow to learn more about them.
When you're educated about certain things - whether they be living/breathing or an ideology - you tend to respect them more. Sure, in the case of the big, man-eating croc, there is still an element of fear. But it's not fear rooted in ignorance. It's fear of, well, being eaten by a 17-foot croc.
Irwin's dedication to his life, his zoo, and his causes earned him some local, then national, then worldwide celebrity. But it wasn't all an act. It was life for him.
And him trying to further those causes, the ones that were his life, ultimately led to his death. Ironic and sad. But mostly sad.
On an aside, the way he went...a stingray barb to the heart...not the way I want to go.