- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2006

The Crocodile Hunter was a man’s man, fearless to a fault, as it turns out, but ever committed to the creatures that inhabit the earth until he was felled by a stingray this week.

The 44-year-old Aussie checked out doing what he loved, as he would have wanted it, the hackneyed phrase that seems appropriate in this case.

He often was at odds with the alarmists in his midst, the Chicken Littles who see danger in every nook and cranny of everyday life.

He could have made them feel better if he had worn a helmet or body armor, or if he did not behave like a little boy around the animals that so fascinated him.

He did not have to get up close and personal with the animals. But that is what made his documentaries. That is what made him.

Darn if he was going to play by the rules of the nervous Nellies, most of whom would not know how to be spontaneous if their lives depended on it.

Children loved him, of course.

Innocence was their connection, although Steve Irwin was no innocent.

He was the ultimate showman who seemingly was destined to handle crocodiles and snakes after growing up around his parents’ small reptile park.

He endured a Michael Jackson-like moment in 2004, when he was shown feeding a snapping crocodile while holding his 1-month-old son.

The footage was beamed all across the world as a sign that perhaps he truly was missing a card or two from his deck.

He never made that mistake again, as he continued to thrill and inform audiences with his derring-do.

Part of his appeal in this country undoubtedly stemmed from his rugged manliness and frat boy charm.

He was not afraid of adventure or life, which made him unique in much of the modern world, which prefers to believe it can legislate away every possible human fear there is.

He was the antithesis of a metrosexual. Not that there is anything wrong with being a metrosexual who moisturizes before going to bed each night.

Irwin probably would think nothing of hitting a bicycle trail without the requisite helmet, knee pads and week’s supply of water. He would just do it, as Nike’s sloganeers would have it.

Irwin came across as a regular guy, or a bloke, as the Aussies like to say. You could imagine sharing a beer with him while being regaled with stories that lead to guffaws.

That, too, was part of his attraction.

He may have been an entertainer, but he was no actor. He was the genuine article, unlike the Crocodile Dundee of Hollywood fame.

Irwin was possibly Australia’s greatest ambassador because of a wit and manner that was devoid of artifice.

He was, as his friend Russell Crowe put it, the Aussie many aspire to be.

He was a conservationist who understood that the word could reach the masses best if it were packaged in a humorous manner.

And he was not afraid of the crocodiles and snakes. So why should you be?

He grew up with animals.

He once told an interviewer, in his ingratiating style, what it was like growing up in his parents’ home.

“You’re walking down through the house,” he said, “and next minute, clack, you know, on your bare back, there’d be a possum rip into you. And, of course, inside the house was just snakesville.”

Snakes in a house?

“Oh, crikey, mate,” Irwin said. “Chock-a-block full of snakes.”

He died after swimming too close to a stingray, normally a docile creature.

Its barb shot up through Irwin’s chest and pierced his heart. Video showed Irwin pulling the barb out of his chest before succumbing to the injury.

That is how it was with Irwin, conditioned to test the boundaries of animals.

He would not have been the Crocodile Hunter if he had been any other way.

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