Sept. 4: Steve Irwin cheated death many times as he tangled with crocodiles and jumped on the back of pythons before a mesmerised global television audience.
Whenever he got too close to a croc’s jaws or escaped a full-grown python’s tightening grip, the iconic “Crocodile Hunter” would tease viewers by calling out “crikey” — an Australian slang expressing surprise.
The world was left groping for a stronger exclamation of disbelief today when the 44-year-old was killed by the poisoned barb of a normally placid sea creature, the stingray, while shooting an underwater film on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef off Queensland.
“He came over the top of a stingray and the barb (on its tail) went up and into his chest and put a hole into his heart,” Irwin’s shocked manager John Stainton told reporters.
Grant Willis, an official at Sydney Aquarium, was expressing the feelings of many when he said: “Of all the animals that Steve Irwin has (been) known to wrestle and wrangle, to go by stingray is just almost ridiculous.”
Irwin, who boasted he was never bitten by a venomous snake or seriously bitten by a crocodile, had once joked about always having bad luck with the less deadly creatures.
“I don’t know what it is with parrots but they always bite me,” he had said.
“A cockatoo once tried to rip the end of my nose off. I don’t know what they’ve got against me.”
Irwin’s daredevilry in his nearly 50 documentaries, shown on TV channel Animal Planet under the title The Crocodile Hunter, won him a worldwide audience of 200 million and turned him into a global industry that generated books, interactive games and even toy action figures.
Some called him a “modern-day Noah”. The ultimate tribute came from Hollywood, when the Australian was invited to play himself in the Eddy Murphy animal caper Dr Doolittle 2.
Irwin, whose parents ran a small reptile wildlife park in Queensland, was gifted a scrub python on his sixth birthday.
By nine he was catching crocodiles. He went on his honeymoon with wife Terri, trapping crocodiles, which became the first episode of The Crocodile Hunter.
In 2004, he was filmed holding his one-month-old son Bob, feeding a snapping crocodile.
Had he glimpsed the raised stingray barb coming at him “like a bayonet on a rifle” today, he would no doubt have felt confident of thumbing his nose at death one more time. Only this time there was to be no “Crikey!”