I woke a bit earlier than normal this morning – beckoned by Colin who rose his sleepy head somewhere due North of dawn – and thus found myself curled fetal style on the couch as Colin administered 32,000 CCs of Cheerios upon every square inch of my body. Damn those cholesterol blocker ads and their mojo they wield on today’s youth.
Anyway, as I played hop-skotch between the 6:30 a.m. showing of The Wiggles on Disney and Gene Lavanchy and his morning show on FOX25, I caught the tragic news. As most everyone by now knows, Steve Irwin, the intrepid Crocodile Hunter, was killed on assignment, felled by the poisonous barb of a stingray.
Much like the day I heard the news that one of my favorite funnymen, Phil Hartman, had been murdered by his spouse – this news hit pretty hard. Both celebrities seemed like real decent men and made the viewer feel closer to these seemingly average blokes.
While I wasn’t a die hard Crocodile Hunter devotee of late, I did tune in when he first made his splash on this side of the pond, starring in his cool, quirky nature show on Animal Planet. That was somewhere in the late 90’s. All I know is I saw enough to effect my best Irwin impression and walk around labeling my assorted coworkers as “ray-ahl rippahs” or for the dames, “this one’s a ray-ahl beaut, mate.” I did it often enough, that one Christmas, Sean gifted me with the talking Steve Irwin action figure – complete with 14″ accessory croc. I remember thinking Irwin was completely nuts and it was that absolute level of divine insanity that endeared him to me.
There was one episode, where Irwin spent the better part of a half hour on the back of a Jeep, hoisting a very pissed Black Mamba snake in the air, jabbering on and on about how its bite could kill a man before he could even utter the word “Help.” Everytime he held the critter towads the camera, the camera recoiled – as you just know the Teamster on the other end of the lens was bemoaning the fact that there isn’t enough hazard pay in the world for this gig. Finally, the moment of truth came. After Irwin boasted about the snake’s land speed record and its ability to leap after its prey and its single-minded devotion to track down and devour any person who dared cross this thunder lizard, he let slip that he had no idea how they were going to let the serpent go safely. If he let it down – it was bound to bite someone. Finally, he declared he had an idea. In split second fashion, he tossed it in the air and screamed, “RUNNNNN MATES!!!!” And that’s how the show ended. In true Blair Witch jiggly cam fashion, as Irwin and crew ran for their lives.
That’s enough to hook anyone. Irwin has such a kind, genial persona that you cringed anytime he stared danger in the maw yet he felt superhuman. No way, any boa would devour this deity, our latter-day Hercules.
There was another episode where he was in a boat off the Great Barrier Reef, a stretch of geography known for its man-eating sharks. There he stood, on the bow of this speeding craft, in his trademark khaki shorts and shirt. No Mithril-enhanced mesh or Batman Shark Repellant for this warrior. As the boat slowed to its final destination, Irwin leapt in the air and dove in the big blue – a real world Aquaman. Below the surface he came across a thresher shark. He remarked that they hate having their fins tugged. To illustrate, he grabbed a fist full of flipper and yanked away. The thresher spun around and nipped him on the arm – letting loose a crimson river. One too many for my confort. Fortunately, he made it top-side that day.
The Crocodile Hunter wasn’t so fortunate today and that news makes me very sad. While some may have seen him as a joke – that boisterous exterior was just a born educator realizing the benefit of wrapping an important message in entertainment. Irwin was a dedicated environmentalist and naturalist who celebrated all creatures great and small – and his desire was to inspire others to do the same – while staring slack-jawed at the latest predicament he’d gotten himself into.
To paraphrase the Doc of Croc, “he was a real beauty.”