Now cracks a noble heart. Thank you, Steve Irwin.
We drove to Chicago this weekend to visit my brother-in-law and sister-in-law-to-be. Heading back toward home early this morning I began feeling anxious about the fact that I had heard no news, no talk radio, for two days, so I started scanning the AM band. And the first snippet I heard: Steve Irwin dead at age 44.
Sure I had misheard, or that it was a horrible joke (April Fools' moved to Labor Day?) I fished my cell phone out of my bag and pulled up CNN. No joke. He's dead, his heart pierced by a bull stingray near the Great Barrier Reef, a freak accident.
I spent the next several hours examining my own feelings about his death, which surprised even me with their intensity. Why was I choking back tears over the passing of a stranger?
Several reasons, I decided. For one, the Crocodile Hunter and his television shows simply carry associations of my son's childhood. He always referred to him as "Steve," like he was a family friend or an uncle, which always amused us. And how could a child not love him? His work and his persona were so unique and captivating our entire family would watch "Steve" for hours, and his enthusiasm was so infectious you would forget that the creatures that so enraptured him were hideous. Which was, of course, his entire mission: making people see animals we've traditionally hated and feared through his eyes--as beautiful and fascinating and special.
And this is another reason his death grieves me: I love animals, and Irwin was a passionate and devoted conservationist. We may never see his like again in that regard. I remember taking our son to see that goofy movie, "Collision Course," the second it hit the theater. The place was by no means full, and we felt like precisely the dorks we were, but there's nothing more wonderful than viewing a film with a handful of other people who also showed up for the very first screening, because you all know why you're there, all laughing at the same moments for the same reasons, all getting the little shoutouts to fans. We loved it. And, no surprise if you knew anything about Steve Irwin, all profit from that film went directly to crocodile conservation.
Speaking of the movie, something else I loved? His partnership with wife Terri Irwin. For someone who ran around picking up cobras and leaping onto feral crocodiles before millions of fans, Steve apparently suffered from no machismo. I never felt like he was waving his dick around--he showed no reluctance to admit when he was afraid, and I've seen him cry twice, once at the death of his beloved dog and again over the body of one of his zoo crocs--and I never, ever saw him treat Terri as anything but a trusted, competent equal. She was out there at their zoo jumping on the backs of crocs just like the men, and we never saw him checking her work. There's a great scene in the film where we see Terri in a tank top, and sister has some serious GUNS, and the camera makes sure you see that this is no trophy wife; Terri Irwin could snap you in half and pick her teeth with your splintered bones. I LOVED that, because you know there was someone in Hollywood who thought about glamming her up for the big screen, especially since she is undeniably a gorgeous woman, but no way. Terri's closeup? Rock solid biceps. Goddamn right.
Oh, how I pity her today. I'm ready to weep again typing it. I remember her pregnant with both their children and I remember how thrilled they both were about the babies. Steve was working on a kids' show with daughter Bindi when he was killed. How will she bear it? And the little boy--Bob--probably won't even remember his bouncy happy Daddy. It breaks my heart. Those poor children, to have a father like that and lose him.
I know people are saying that Irwin lived more in 44 years than most of us would in twice that, but that doesn't make me feel better. I know people die every day--people die too young every day--but so many of Earth's tenants merely take up space that it really hurts to lose one who was actually paying his rent. Steve Irwin earned his keep; he had credit. He deserved the rest of his life. It's not fair.