More than you wanted to know about Steve Irwin’s death

A news article describes his last moments, and Rangel, MD gets technical.

And please, everyone, we know he was brash and some people found him annoying…but we should all agree that death is deplorable, and there’s no justice in it.


  1. PaulC says

    I was going to comment earlier. Believe it or not, I’ve only seen him on commercials and on a Wiggles DVD that I have borrowed a few times from the library for my toddler. The main thing that strikes me is that he left behind some young kids, he was by all accounts a friendly and clearly enthusiastic guy, and he should have had decades more to live. The first part alone makes it a tragedy. Anyway, in short, I think this is a pretty poor time to be editorializing against his act.

  2. Pi Guy says

    I know that people have strong feelings about the guy one way or the other but, for my part, I wish that even 10% of the people in the world had as much zeal and enthusiasm for what they do. Heck – I wish that 10% of the people in my office did!

  3. Paul says

    My take is, yeah, Steve Irwin was a little (maybe even a lot) annoying – but:

    (a) he did his bit to make people interested in nature and conservation (a good thing in a world where mendacious fuckwits like the IDiots are trying to destroy science and any ideas developed after 1542)


    (b) if you make a list of people on the planet right now who really deserve to get a stingray spine through the heart, Steve Irwin is going to be waaaaay in the back of the line.

  4. jim says

    When my children were younger they loved watching him and learning about animals. He was very enthusiastic about his work and he did stress proper care and handling of animals so the animals wouldn’t get hurt. Clearly he loved animals and sharing his enthusiasium with others. It is tragic that he leaves behind a wife and two young children. I wish them well. Steve will be missed.

  5. sammy says

    I can be lumped with the group who found Irwin to be annoying, but if I was going to condemn someone for being annoying, I’d have to start with myself and then maybe one-third to half of my circle of friends and family.

    On the other hand, I think it’s clear from watching his stuff that he genuinely loved animals, and that he loved teaching about them. The fact that he was gregarious and something of a danger junkie were just his schtick, and it was a pretty good schtick.

    My condolences to his family, friends, and fans.

  6. redstripe says

    Just a tiny kibbitz: I do not deplore death, which implies an active contempt for death as an object. I agree with you if you mean that death is sad and tragic.

    Visit Deadspin for Mr. Irwin’s amusing SportsCenter commercial.

  7. dAVE says

    I’ll always remember him holding his BABY in one hand and feeding a chicken to a crocodile with the other. That’s when his obliviousness to real danger became apparent to me.

    His death really is the way he should have gone. Tragedy would have been him sitting at a stop light and being hit by a drunk driver.

  8. Joshua says

    I don’t understand this backlash against Steve Irwin. The only thing that makes any sense is it’s some sort of fringe PETA-style madness where none of his critics actually watched his show, they just heard about it from somebody whose friend watched them and told them about the crazy Aussie who wrestles alligators on TV. Nobody who saw more than five minutes of his show could think Steve Irwin had anything other than complete respect, admiration, and even love for the animals he dealt with day to day. I simply cannot fault the man for trying to share that with the world.

    (Well. I also detect a bit of sour grapes from certain other wildlife personalities who never got as much publicity. That makes sense enough. But the criticism from people who weren’t in the same business is strange and confusing to me.)

  9. PaulC says

    Actually, I don’t believe death is deplorable, but untimely death (like Steve Irwin’s) is.

    On a more abstract note, I’ve occasionally worried what will happen when we figure out a way to extend lifespans significantly longer than nature provides. On an individual basis, it sounds great–I could use a few hundred more years without ever getting bored–but it’s just going to increase the dynastic consolidation of power.

    There are many powerful people in the world about whom the most optimistic forecast is that, well, at least one day they will die and others will have a chance to undo the damage. Without death as an equalizer, there is more incentive than there is even now to try to protect privilege and rule out opportunities that put it at risk.

    The worst you can say about death at an abstract level (as opposed to a personal or moral level) is that often people are cut down in their prime when they had something big to contribute. But I’m of the view that we’re all part of a big tree. A blossom snipped from one branch will bloom on another. Death is a cause for sorrow, but should not be something to fear.

  10. Hank Fox says

    Steve Irwin was annoying only in the way children are annoying. He was wonderful fun, hugely enthusiastic about wildlife, and a truly UNIQUE person.

    I felt the same way this weekend as I did when John Denver died. Sure, he wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but neither were Mr. Rogers, or Carl Sagan. Steve was a bright, quirky, delightfully fun, totally harmless, GOODHEARTED man.

    People elsewhere have said things like “I just knew he was going to push too far someday. It was inevitable. Serves him right.”

    Here’s what I say to those people: Screw you.

    We live in a world where Steve Irwin is gone, but a malignant shithead like George W. Bush still sits in a position of power.

    For me: In an dangerously dark world, some of the fun, some of the light, has gone out.

  11. PaulC says

    I have to admit I’m not getting this notion of Steve Irwin being annoying. He strikes me as about the nicest, most charismatic person you’d ever want to meet. I’ll accept the view that parts of his act were misguided, but if he’s annoying, what would you prefer? Is everyone who’s enthusiastic and colorful annoying by definition?

    I think annoyance is largely in the eye of the beholder. Somebody who’s not annoying to anybody is probably boring to most people. Some super-serious accountant who will give you useful tax advice when you ask for it (but definitely not when you don’t) is probably unannoying to everyone, and certainly fulfills a useful role. Should we all be like that, or is there room in this world for some “annoying” people?

  12. Paul says

    Annoyingness is one of those subjective things. I probably can’t help finding him annoying and what I find annoying other people will find wonderful (and vice versa). It’s just one of those things.

    (And no, while enthusiastic and colourful people can be annoying, they are not automatically so.)

    In any case, being annoying (or enthusiastic and colourful) isn’t grounds for deserving a stingray spine through the heart.

  13. says

    Most of my thoughts have been for Terri and her two children. They’re dealing with the fact that daddy isn’t coming home from work and, as a father, this would be my last thought if I were find myself dying. What a loss for them; what terrible feeling Steve must have had if he realized his death was imminent.

    Say what you want about the guy, wildlife conservation has lost a great popularizer and a friend.

  14. matthew says

    Steve Irwin in a nutshell:

    I still can’t get it over it. This world can’t afford to loose Steve Irwin, or anyone like him. This is such a tragedy… It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair… I’m sorry, I just can’t get over it and I don’t think I ever will.

    On a related note, Wildlife Warriors Worldwide is a foundation set up by Steve, and if you want, you can give them donations to help further their goals:

  15. Stephen Erickson says

    Crikey, mate, I guess they don’t call it a STING ray for nothing!

    Along with the John Mark Karr fiasco, it’s been a record-setting summer on the iron-o-meter.

  16. bernarda says

    What is disgusting is Australian wingnut PM John Howard trying to make political hay out of this. Bush’s best, and maybe only, friend in Australia. Has Howard ever shown any interest in the environment? What is he doing about the lungfish?

  17. Mena says

    Hank Fox: well said, I agree with you too.
    PaulC: People can be annoying but not bad. Steve Irwin was just annoying in a hyperactive way, but again that isn’t bad. He seemed to have been the type that you would just have to let bounce off the walls while you were working with him. This doesn’t make him less smart or interesting, and doesn’t make his work any less important. I find Josh Bernstein annoying too but he’s still a major hottie with a fairly decent show, to give you another example. Personally I find Julian Richards’ “Meet the Ancestors” to be more at my level but sometimes you just need to have basic stuff to get people interested in things, whether it’s for kids or people who are curious about something and just want to get a general idea of the subject.

  18. says

    Sincere condolences to the Irwins on Steve’s loss. He will live on in their hearts, and through all of the good things he’s done – and will no doubt continue to be done in his memory.

    Losing someone so young is tragic, but when that person has lived a full life and touched or enlightened many people in the process, at least it’s a life well lived. Though a person may be gone, their ideas are immortal as long as even one person remembers or references them.

    There are worse ways to go than accidentally (and quickly), while doing something you love.

  19. Bill Dauphin says

    I don’t understand this backlash against Steve Irwin. The only thing that makes any sense is it’s some sort of fringe PETA-style madness…

    I would never go out of my way to speak ill of the dead, but since you’ve attributed what happen to be my private thoughts to “fringe madness,” I’ll take a moment to respond:

    I only saw Irwin a few times: A couple episodes of his show, a special on poisonous snakes, and several guest shots on the late-night shows. Of course his death is a tragedy — “Any man’s death diminshes me,” after all — but on those occasions when I did see him, it seemed to me that he was always behaving recklessly, and thereby implicitly encouraging reckless behavior by his audience. For instance, on a special about the 10 most dangerous snakes of the world (all of which seem to be indigenous to Australia), I recall watching him sticking his hand and arm blindly into the burrow of a deadly snake… commenting as he did so that it was wildly dangerous, yet doing it anyway with a big smile and apparently no trepidation whatsoever.

    Now, you may comment, as many have over the last couple days, that his apparently reckless behavior wasn’t really so reckless, because of his deep understanding of the animals. But the public he played to doesn’t have that level of awareness: What they saw was a grinning, laughing guy playing with deadly animals apparently without a care in the world. As someone who spent a big chunk of his life in Florida, I shudder to think how many people have gotten closer to snakes, gators, sharks, and rays than was really safe, saying “look at me; I’m the Crocodile Hunter!”

    None of this makes what must have been a horrible death any less a tragedy, of course, and perhaps today is not the right day to critically examine his legacy… but it’s unfair to write those of us who have concerns off as nuts, or to assume that all criticism is based on animal rights worries, fringe or otherwise. (FWIW, I’m the polar opposite of a PETA advocate.)


  20. PaulC says


    Steve Irwin was just annoying in a hyperactive way, but again that isn’t bad.

    But my point was that some people might not find him annoying at all. It strikes me that he’d probably be a lot of fun to have around. It’s a subjective thing. I know people who seem very serious and professional all the time. While I wouldn’t call them annoying, there is something I find disturbing about them. I am more comfortable seeing somebody let down their guard and reveal what really gets them going. Steve Irwin was clearly of that type.

    I’m nothing like Steve Irwin, but some people definitely find me annoying–when my voice gets too loud, or I just get fixated on some topic–while in other cases I make an effort to apologize for being annoying and it’s unnecessary because the other person is actually interested in what I have to say. Still other times, I try to act serious, but it seems to be a very limited form of communication. I remember one friend of mine (years back) stating (implying that I’m typically hyperactive and annoying) that one particular conversation I had with a coworker of hers seemed to go well or something like that. Anyway, it was about the mostly deadly dull conversation I can think of. I was trying to be polite and sound like I knew what I was talking about, but it was sort of fraudulent. I was just saying what I thought the conversation required, and really did not have much stake in it. It was purely a case of conscious politeness.

    To sum up, you cannot please everyone. I have no doubt that many people find Steve Irwin annoying, but annoyance is about the furthest thing from my mind. I can imagine that if I was trying to do some work and guy starts yelling “Crikey” and pushing a Burmese python into my face, I’d be annoyed, but if I had free time to spend with somebody like that, I would almost certainly come away feeling happy and entertained, not annoyed.

  21. Great White Wonder says

    It’s reasonable to believe that Irwin wanted to die the way he lived: doing something risky.

    Think about the tragic irony of an alternative fate: struck by a car pulling out of his driveway, then burned to death because he couldn’t get his seat belt off.

    That would be almost as ironic as Jim Fixx getting killed by a lightning bolt while standing inside in his kitchen.

  22. BK says

    Everythings been covered. We all have to die sometime. Killed by a sting-ray barb to the heart? How cool is that?

  23. says

    Bill: No, I think that’s a perfectly reasonable position to take. My incredulity is reserved more for the “serves him right” crowd. There’s a wide gulf between pointing out risky behaviour and the things some people have said about Steve since he died. Fortunately, though, those people are quite in the minority.

  24. Jeff says

    I heard that he died while shooting footage for his daughter’s TV show. That girl is going to have some MAJOR psychological issues in the future. This truly was a tragedy.

  25. dAVE says

    I wonder what his life insurance premiums were. Probably really high.

    The “serves him right” crowd is just another manifestation of as aspect of humnan nature. We all like to think that if we’re good, then nothing bad will happen to us. It’s a way of dealing with the fact that bad stuff happens someimes. Sometimes it turns into a blame the victim mentality.
    Karma, God’s justice, you make your own luck, whatever you want to call it, people want the Universe to make sense and only have bad things happen to bad people.

    Who else had the thought, when Sister Novena informed us that he campaigned for Howard, AHA! Well, there you go!? Sure, in passing, quickly dismissed, but I had it.

  26. says

    sad. i didn’t watch his stuff but then i hardly watch any TV.

    Irwin may have provoked the ray, but he had to have known how dangerous it could be. maybe he misjudged it. but it’s entirely possible his curiosity just got the better of him. i mean, he acted like a “kid in the candy store” a lot of time. if that is true, it’s hard to criticize.

    i’ll remember him as someone who tried to communicate about nature to the public, even if his means were dramatic.

  27. Steven Sullivan says

    I’m not clear on the actual events here, based on stories from yesterday and today. Earlier it seemed that he was following in the ray closely, possibly with a cameraman in front, and the ray may have lashed out when it felt boxed in. Today’s CNN story quotes a seemingly different series of events:

    “He and the underwater cameraman went out to do some pieces on the reef and coral and stuff good for the kids’ show and, unfortunately, he came out over the top of a stingray that was buried in the sand and the barb went up and hit him in the chest.”

    So, did he even know the ray was there? Or is this an attempt at ‘spin’ to make him seem less reckless?

  28. Ian H Spedding says

    P Z Myers wrote:

    And please, everyone, we know he was brash and some people found him annoying…but we should all agree that death is deplorable, and there’s no justice in it.

    No, there isn’t. It’s not a just universe.

    I wonder, though, if the reservations people had about Steve Irwin just came down to a matter of style: those, like me, who preferred the David Attenborough style against those who preferred the Crocodile Hunter.

    But does that really matter compared to what they had in common?

    There’s an an enormous love and great knowledge of animals and the natural world in general, which is communicated with skill and real passion but without pretension.

    That is what both men are about. That combination of skills is very rare. That is why Irwin’s death is such a tragic loss.

    And what did they think of each other? A quick Google:

    The odd thing about Attenborough’s career is that, over the course of 50 years, it is hard to think of anyone who has come close to challenging him. He dismisses this as nonsense and mentions, among others, Bill Oddie, Charlotte Uhlenbroek and Simon King, who made Big Cat Diary. Australian he-man Steve Irwin and his imitators make a different kind of wildlife programme altogether and, says Attenborough, “what’s wrong with that? An adventure story in which the bit parts are played by animals. And that’s fine. It gets people interested.”,,1713421,00.html

    You’ve become famous around the world for your own wildlife films. What do you think of the older generation…
    The natural history programmes made here are the best in the world. You’ve got the best film crews in the remotest countries living on fresh air, and a little bit of water every now and again, catching some sensational wildlife pictures. And Sir David Attenborough, mate, he’s like the Voice of God.

  29. PaulC says

    There seem to be two criticisms of Irwin. First, that he was reckless and maybe should have shown more respect for the animals he loved so much. This might be true and it’s a legitimate issue, particularly with kids watching his act.

    The second one seems to go, roughly: “Despite the fact that he made his show colorful and engaging, we should acknowledge that in his own flawed way he was trying to educate people about nature.” Sorry, but his showmanship is why he was good. There are different ways to make animal shows. They all work, because the animals steal the show. You could do “Gilbert Gottfried’s Annoying World of Animals” and it would work. But Steve Irwin obviously caught the attention of many people. I don’t see how that’s bad. For everyone who found him annoying, probably about ten other people tuned in who might be more likely to watch some pointless drivel.

  30. Grumpy says

    Sadly, former Energizer battery spokes-bloke Jacko still lives — and now, by default, regains the title of Australia’s Ambassador to the World.

  31. says

    The fact is, Irwin knew his shit (Australian reptiles) and I believe he was involved with several Species Survival Plans. That takes some dedication – the paperwork alone is a bitch!

  32. Bill Dauphin says

    Thanks for the understanding, Joshua. I should have added to my first comment that I am not among those who found Irwin’s persona grating or obnoxious: The goofy exuberance, the shorts and safari shirt, the Aussie slang and accent… all of this was very appealing to me. As an entertainer and public figure, I thought he was the very cat’s ass.

    I also think he had every right to be a danger junkie, as he clearly must have been. (Presuming, that is, that he somehow fairly reconciled his dangerous job/lifestyle with his obligations as a husband and father.)

    Where I fall off the sled is the way he conflated “danger junkie” and “educator.” I take the word of those who knew him and his work well that he was a sincere conservationalist and an expert natural historian… but the image he presented to the broader public was something different, even in his final act: He died, ultimately, because he insisted on invading the territory of a potentially deadly creature, hassling it into an attack that was, by all accounts, uncharacteristic of the animal’s normal behavior. What message does that send about respecting animals? How does that communicate a conservationalist ethos?

    By one account, the point of the segment he was taping was to “demythologize” rays… presumably to suggest they’re not as dangerous as their reputation and appearance might suggest. It’s a noble goal to give people a rational sense of perspective about animals that are potentially dangerous but do not usually attack… but there’s a fine line between “demythologizing” a venomous creature and minimalizing the extent to which it will kill you if you screw with it.

    I would never say “he had it coming to him”… but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that there was a certain inevitability in the manner of Mr. Irwin’s death. My sympathies to his family, and to his fans.

  33. LK says

    To Bill,

    By ‘all accounts’ he wasn’t hassling the sting ray, merely observing it. The sting ray got spooked and attacked. For the most part, what you saw on the Irwin show is highly scripted and acted to give the impression of spontaneity, but in all honestly it was just show for Americans who have never seen animals in the wild. As a QLDer raised around crocs, I don’t think I’ve seen Steve Irwin do anything that you would describe as unsafe. Merely typical of the behaviour, approach and respect to the animals here.

  34. Peter Singer Follower says

    The RAY had as many rights as Irwin.

    Your specieism is showing.

    The RAY was just taking defensive action.

  35. Bill Dauphin says


    By ‘all accounts’ he wasn’t hassling the sting ray, merely observing it.

    I didn’t mean “hassling” in the sense of poking it with a stick or calling its mother names; only in the sense of invading its territory and crowding it. Note this from the article PZ used to start the thread:

    “It probably felt threatened because Steve was alongside and there was the cameraman ahead, and it felt there was danger and it baulked”

    Perhaps “hassling” was a poor choice of words, but I stand by the intended point. Note also that my use of the phrase “by all accounts” referred to the idea that the animal’s behavior was uncharacteristic (i.e., every account I read or heard was at great pains to say stingray attacks of this sort are extremely rare), not to the “hassling.”

    I don’t think I’ve seen Steve Irwin do anything that you would describe as unsafe.

    Hmmm… I admittedly didn’t see a large percentage of his ouevre, but I never saw him do anything with an animal that I wouldn’t describe as unsafe, if it were imitated by a “regular” person. Of course, I could say the same about most magicians and jugglers and acrobats…. Perhaps the Crocodile Hunter “act” was, as you suggest, highly scripted to produce the illusion of danger, just as (for instance) Penn and Teller’s act is. The difference is, when a magician seems to saw a lady in half of stick needles into his partners eyes, everybody understands it’s a trick, and nobody pretends the magician is modeling respectful behavior.

    Honestly, unless he really was engaged in sleight of hand rather than naturalism, some of the things I saw him do on film/video must have been truly dangerous, even for him, no matter how tightly scripted.

    OK, I’ve now made 3 long posts on a subject on which I never intended to say a single word. I think that’s enough (at least!), so I will now shut up and let the poor man rest in peace.

  36. Michael Geissler says

    From the AiG site there:
    “Sadly, Steve Irwin wasn’t a creationist. He mentioned evolution and the concept of millions of years many times in his television programs.”

    Yet another point in Steve’s favour.

  37. Steve says

    Not quite understanding why “we should all agree that death is deplorable” let alone why “there’s no justice in it.” Not to in any way diminish the pain experienced by families and friends. But life begins and has an end. There is justice in that. Whether you believe in an ultimate purpose or none, there is justice in death. Our expectations are shocked in an “untimely” death – we shouldn’t mistake that for our moral sensibilities being shocked.

  38. ice weasel says

    Taking the a single, narrow view of this possible, it’s extremely tragic. Anytime science/conservation, well, just pure rationality loses a charismatic spokesperson it’s a loss not just for that person’s family, but to the planet. It means there is one less voice out there talking about animals as other than food, god’s magical creations or targets.

    On a personal level, most of his broadcasts annoyed me but I did get it. If you saw the episode of he and his wife frantically trying to do something as whales beached themselves and died you know what I mean (about the good parts of Irwin). If most of his message wasn’t meant for me, no big deal. It’s beyond question he was a positive influence on millions of others.

  39. jc. says

    What I eventually found annoying and objectionable with Steve Irwin was that his show seemed to me to consist of stressing wild animals for entertainment. I am not an “animal rights” nut by any means but I felt that his filmed behaviour was often unecessary and very reminiscent of my own chilhood and teenage years as a very nature intrested, but ignorant, collecter hunter in the swamps of New jersey.
    As a one time passionate snorkeler and spear fisherman (with unfortunately a fair amount of sting rays on my conscience) I am having a very hard time envisioning HOW a free swimming person can be impaled by a stingray. The mechanics of the situation and mechanics of the stingrays tail and barb just don´t lend themselves, in my mind, to this possibility. Stingrays are quite the tasty morsal to predators and depend mostly (like octopi) on their skillful concealment skills for protection. For a well concealed stingray to lash out (absolute last ditch defense mechanism) at a large overhead swimming object (potential predator) would would mean that the stingray felt very, very emperilled I believe.
    I am probably wrong in my perceptions and have no actual knowledge of the accident and by no means feel any “justice” in his death, BUT for the moment I personally feel that Steve Irwin stressed wild animals for entertainment and a stressed animal killed him which should be no surprise.

  40. truth machine says

    It’s reasonable to believe that Irwin wanted to die the way he lived: doing something risky.

    Think about the tragic irony of an alternative fate: struck by a car pulling out of his driveway, then burned to death because he couldn’t get his seat belt off.

    But he really wasn’t doing anything more risky than that.

  41. Torbjörn Larsson says

    On Irwin’s death I don’t care one way or another if Irwin was annoying to people. Nor do I especially care if he was annoying to animals – he was but one man in a large world and he did it to good purposes for animals. But the fact seems to be that he died because he was annoying. Ask the stingray.

    “For a well concealed stingray to lash out (absolute last ditch defense mechanism) at a large overhead swimming object (potential predator) would would mean that the stingray felt very, very emperilled I believe.”

    The article says Irwin followed a swimming stingray alongside, with a cameraman blocking the path. For that to happen the simplest explanation is that they forced the ray to flee, into this boxed situation. “”It stopped and went into a defensive mode and swung its tail with the spike. It probably felt threatened because Steve was alongside and there was the cameraman ahead, and it felt there was danger and it baulked.”” I can’t fault the ray, it happens seldom, and that is precicely why it seems to have been an extreme situation.