I was walking down the cul-de-sac that sheltered my childhood home when I heard that TV phenomenon and animal conservation legend Steve Irwin had died. Suddenly empty, I half-wandered the grassy area behind the pastel Wisconsin homes and started crying. At the time I wasn’t exactly sure why I was breaking down, but ten years later I know: Steve Irwin was a singularly interesting man, the Carl Sagan of animal-themed education, whose legacy continues just as unimpeded as his enthusiasm through unto today: Steve Irwin Day.
The reason you have a familiarity with the word “Crikey!” is Steve Irwin. It was a signature phrase exclaimed often during the run of the popular TV show Crocodile Hunter, which Irwin hosted. If that show was made in today’s bloated lineups, I’m certain the host would tackle a crocodile for shock value—whole “educational” shows now build up to dangerous encounters with wildlife. But Irwin wasn’t a shock croc jock. Respect for animals and wildlife education was always his goal, communicated with a sincerity that was felt rather than marketed.
What set the constantly khaki-ed man apart was his contagious zeal for what he was doing. He was just as happy covered in mud trying to calm a crocodile as he was talking to camera. Irwin’s passion never had to be explained, it was always just there, just a part of him, something that touched millions.
Though so-called “flashbulb” memories are often recalled with supposedly crystal clarity, they are just as fallible as regular recollections. Maybe I wasn’t crying in a cul-du-sac. Still, I know, we know, that the loss of Irwin was a loss for everyone. After his death in September 2006, Irwin lives on through his family — his devotion as a family man was equally endearing, and you could see it when his wife and children joined him on Crocodile Hunter — and through his numerous wildlife conservation efforts. This Steve Irwin Day, you can help continue that legacy by supporting Irwin’s Wildlife Warriors Worldwide and the Australia Zoo, which help protect wildlife in Australia and around the world.
Or you can put on some khakis and yell “Crikey” while remembering the ineffable zest for animals and for life that was Steve Irwin.