I was surprised to hear of Steve Irwin’s death, although I guess I shouldn’t have been. I mean, he made a career out of putting himself in danger. And at least he died doing what he loved best—pestering animals who weren’t bothering anyone until he came along.
Apparently Irwin was working on a TV show with Jacques Cousteau’s son, and bad weather was keeping them from shooting whatever it was they wanted to film, so the Crocodile Hunter decided to go bother some stingrays and film that to use later on in a show of his own. And the stingray didn’t like it, and it stuck him in the heart, and he died. All the news reports stressed that it is incredibly rare for a stingray to kill anybody, but the statistics are based on people who encounter stingrays accidentally. In cases where someone goes looking for a giant stingray to intentionally rile it up, the stingrays are one for one.
In spite of Steve Irwin’s relentless enthusiasm, I think there was something very dark about him. Over and over, again and again, he put himself into danger. There was a sort of manic quality to the way he’d grab some giant venomous snake, hold it next to his face, look straight into the camera, and announce—in that dreadful Australian accent—“If this were to bite me, I’d be dead!” A couple of years ago, Irwin carried his infant son into a crocodile pen at feeding time. He was photographed holding his baby in one hand while tossing raw meat to the crocs with the other. When he was criticized for this, Irwin defended himself by insisting, “I was totally in control. I was in control at all times!” I think this is a clue to what was really going on with him.
There’s been a sincere outpouring of love and grief since Steve Irwin’s death, among the people who knew him personally, of course, but also from his many fans. But I’ve noticed something funny about the reactions of people who didn’t like Irwin’s television show, people who didn’t care for his non-stop in-your-face oh-crikey persona. We feel bad about him dying, and that surprises us. I think this is because, on some level, we realize we’ve been watching a guy cheerfully attempting suicide over and over again for years, and now, finally, he’s succeeded.