- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Timothy Treadwells death came just the way he had predicted.

Mr. Treadwell and his girlfriend were mauled by a 1,000-pound grizzly bear last October in a remote section of Alaskan wilderness that Mr. Treadwell knew well after years of living among its bear population.

That Mr. Treadwell was killed doing what he loved did not surprise many of those who knew him. He had acknowledged his forays into the backcountry were tempting fate.

He had started an environmental group and received donations from celebrities such as actor Leonardo DiCaprio and supermodel Gisele Bundchen, in part by saying the bears he loved were in jeopardy. He spun colorful stories about his adventures for the Discovery Channel, David Lettermans late-night audience and the Walt Disney Co.

What few knew about Mr. Treadwell was that much of his life was an invention.

Interviews with associates and reviews of public records reveal him as a complex character part wildlife enthusiast, part showman, part educator, part impostor.

The organization he said was dedicated to saving bears did find a useful outlet educating school children, and some researchers have said his detailed observations about bear behavior are valuable. But his organization was not registered as a nonprofit, as it claimed, and some wildlife experts said the bears he claimed to be saving didnt need his protection.

His tales of being Australian or raised as an English orphan, later rescuing himself from a life of drugs and alcohol through his fascination with bears, only made his story more compelling.

It was only after his death that many of his more recent friends learned he was born under a different name as the middle-class son of a Long Island phone company foreman.

Charismatic in life, Mr. Treadwell had become an enigma in death.

He refused to see the bears as “savage beasts.” What others feared, he sought out. He spent nearly a dozen summers living among grizzlies, primarily in the Katmai National Park and Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula.

Mr. Treadwell, 46, won national acclaim for his daring and devotion. He named some bears and videotaped many of his encounters.

In 1997, he published a book, “Among Grizzlies: Living With Wild Bears in Alaska.”

Mr. Treadwell made regular visits to schools after returning to Southern California from his annual trips to Alaska. Blond, good-natured and animated, he held students spellbound with tales of Mr. Chocolate the Bear and other animals in regions.

But not everyone embraced Mr. Treadwells views.

“Bears are bears, and the sooner we treat them as bears instead of humans in a bear suit it will be less dangerous,” said Tom Smith, a biologist at the Alaska Science Center.

Critics said Mr. Treadwells lifestyle could encourage copycats who would enter the wilderness and harass wildlife. Some worried that the mauling death of Mr. Treadwell and his girlfriend, 37-year-old Amie Huguenard, would harm grizzlies by turning public opinion against them.

Elizabeth Laden, a newspaper publisher in Idaho who has reported on bears for more than 20 years, noted that Mr. Treadwells death led authorities to kill two bears in self-defense after arriving at his campsite.

During his middle-class upbringing on Long Island, Mr. Treadwell born Timothy William Dexter nurtured a passion for animals and the outdoors.

As a boy he had a collection of teddy bears, including one called Mr. Goodbear, and he often spent summer days playing in a nature preserve, said his mother, Carol Ann Dexter.

A high school swim team member, he earned a scholarship to Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and set a university record on the 3-meter dive.

In what his father, Valentine Dexter, called the start of a downward spiral, Tim injured his back while diving, lost his scholarship and dropped out in 1977 before starting his junior year.

Back home in Ronkonkoma, his troubles worsened: He crashed the family station wagon and was arrested on charges related to drunken driving.

“That led up to his leaving,” said his father.

Mr. Treadwell moved to Southern California in 1978, staying with his older sister, Vikki Pless, in Long Beach before striking out on his own and beginning a personal transformation.

Over the years, he waited tables and mixed cocktails in beach communities. He legally changed his last name to Treadwell in 1987 after using it informally for years, according to Los Angeles County records.

Supporters defended Mr. Treadwells shifting persona, noting that in his book he said he was raised in New York.

In his book, Mr. Treadwell wrote of an ongoing battle with alcoholism and drugs and a paranoia so acute he carried a gun and slept with a loaded M-16.

Friends said Mr. Treadwell would have reveled in the attention his life and work have generated since his death.

“Hes in hysterics up there,” said Warren Queeney, an actor in Los Angeles and a friend of Mr. Treadwells for 10 years.

Mr. Queeney only learned his friend was from Long Island when he met Mr. Treadwells father at a memorial service, but he said he felt more amused than duped.

“He was a con artist, but boy, he pulled it off,” Mr. Queeney said. “The man was truly a riddle wrapped in a sleeping bag. I dont know if any of us will ever know who he really was.”

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