Steve Irwin had one of the weirdest deaths imaginable: stung multiple times in the heart by a stingray which had probably mistaken him for a tiger shark. His final words, we now know from his cameraman, Justin Lyons, were: “I’m dying.”
But according to that same cameraman, it would be wrong, quite wrong for that dramatic last footage and those now famous last words ever to be shown to the public.Well, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t disagree more strongly.It’s what Steve would have wanted, and it’s what his public deserves.
I loved watching Crocodile Hunter, so did my kids, so did an estimated 500 million viewers around the world. Irwin was huge. And the reason he was huge–besides his manic energy, infectious enthusiasm, and those ridiculous khaki shorts worn on every conceivable occasion–was that in almost every episode he diced more closely with death than any TV wildlife presenter before or since.
“Will he get eaten by a 20-foot Salty? Or chomped by a Great White? Or stung to death by a scorpion or a box jellyfish?”
These were the kind of questions perpetually on viewers’ lips as they thrilled to the Crocodile Hunter’s latest insane adventure.And Irwin played up to it because he knew that was the essence of his appeal. That’s why he gave his shows titles like Ten Deadliest Snakes and (the show he was filming when he died) Ocean’s Deadliest.
Irwin was not an illusionist. His stunts were for real, and his audiences knew they were for a real. If Irwin had flinched when, for example, he allowed the world’s most venomous snake–the inland taipan, aka the fierce snake–to nuzzle up to his bare hand in the middle of the Australian outback, that would have been it. Curtains. He would have been dead in a matter of seconds.
So how would Irwin have taken the idea, I wonder, that of all the hours of footage he repeatedly risked his life to film, the most dramatic and exciting of all–the culmination and apogee of his entire broadcasting career, indeed–would have ended up being censored, apparently forever, out of someone else’s misplaced sense of propriety?
Actually we have no need to wonder because during his lifetime Irwin gave the answer. Even as he lay dying in the boat while one of his cameramen desperately tried to administer CPR another cameraman kept on filming. Why? Because Irwin had given strict instructions that anything which happened to him while he was out filming should be recorded.
At the moment the only record we have of his last moments is a fragmentary clip on YouTube which just doesn’t do him justice. It belongs in the tacky, cheap league of Al-Qaeda beheading videos. It’s just not the tribute the guy deserves.
Sure I’m aware of the counterarguments. That to release the Steve Irwin death footage would be ghoulish and prurient, that it would be offensive to his wife and kids, that such a private and personal moment as a man’s death should stay private.
But as I’m pretty sure Steve Irwin understood–how could he not? he knew the game–if you live by TV, you die by TV. It’s eight years since his passing. Time his fans finally got to see Steve Irwin’s Final Great Adventure.