It’s July 2018, and Terri Irwin is trying to keep her composure while appearing on the Australian chat show Anh’s Brush with Fame. Terri is the widow of the late wildlife expert Steve Irwin, you see, and discussing her deceased husband with the show’s host has brought a whirlwind of emotions to the surface. After all, Terri is about to reveal a secret that her beloved spouse had confessed to her in his final weeks. And the never-before-heard tidbit proves that Steve had in fact been fearful for his life.
Yet Terri’s life with Steve – the star of Animal Planet’s The Crocodile Hunter – was one filled with love, happiness and adventure. All of which makes its final twist even more tragic. And the confession that Steve had made to Terri just before his death actually turned out to be eerily prophetic.
It’s worth considering, however, the start of Steve’s life – before dwelling further on its devastating end. So what do we know? Well, Steve was born in February 1962 in Essendon – a suburb of Melbourne, Australia – on his mom’s 20th birthday. His parents, Robert “Bob” Irwin and Lysette “Lynn” Irwin, also had two daughters: Joy and Mandy.
As he explained to Larry King in a 2004 interview, Steve was born with little choice but to love animals. He told the American host, “My dad was a wildlife expert. His field was herpetology, one who studies reptiles, and my mom was a wildlife rehabilitator… So my parents actually guided me in the direction that I’ve gone.”
Incredibly, for instance, Steve received an 11-foot python as a sixth-birthday present from his parents. Fred – as the pet became known – was perhaps an unlikely companion for such a young boy, of course. Yet the snake undoubtedly played a part in Steve’s burgeoning love for reptiles both large and small.
Steve’s parents then relocated the family to Beerwah, a town in the Glass House Mountains area near Queensland. And it was here in 1970 that Lyn and Bob bought 1.6 hectares of land and founded the Beerwah Reptile Park – which would eventually be renamed Australia Zoo.
So Steve spent the formative years of his childhood aiding his parents in the running of the park. He therefore learned how to expertly handle the creatures. Steve had, for example, somehow managed to master the art of wrestling crocodiles at the age of nine.
It likely goes without saying, then, that Steve had hero-worshipped his dad, Bob, and wanted to follow in his footsteps. In the 1970s, in fact, the pair embarked on many field trips. And together, the father-and-son team examined snakes in the Queensland desert, assisted local universities with their bird surveys and helped move problematic crocodiles – among other things. Steve would also attend Landsborough State School and then Caloundra State High School during this period of his life. But in truth, he had already found his life’s calling.
With the capable assistance of their enthusiastic young son, then, Bob and Lyn’s park – which helped to recuperate ailing and orphaned wildlife – soon earned itself a glowing reputation in Australia. In 1980, in fact, the couple added another 1.6 hectares of land to the zoological facility and extended the menagerie. And Steve was heavily involved in all facets of the park’s operations.
Around this time, too, Steve was volunteering for the Queensland East Coast Crocodile Management Program. There, he helped in the conservation of endangered saltwater crocodiles. This particular species is composed of the biggest reptiles on Earth today – and the seemingly fearless Steve did everything in his power to stop them from being killed or hurt. And his efforts had a positive impact on the crocodile’s population decline; over 100 crocs were captured and then relocated in the wild or taken into captivity at the family’s Crocodile Environmental Park.
In the early 1990s Steve took total control over the park after his parents retired and relocated to the town of Rosedale. This time period would also be a momentous one for the affable Australian’s love life, as it would be when he would meet a certain Terri Raines. She had travelled to Australia from Eugene, Oregon, you see, and later headed to Beerwah and Steve’s beloved park.
Terri told Oprah Winfrey in 2002 that when she’d appeared at the park as a tourist 11 years earlier, she had been mesmerized by the charismatic Aussie doing a crocodile demonstration. According to Terri, Steve had been describing what good mothers and passionate lovers crocs could be.
And in October 2019 Terri recalled another highly amusing aspect of their first meeting to Us Weekly. After the two of them got talking, she said, Steve had apparently asked if she would like to meet his girlfriend. This had initially left Terri feeling “utterly crushed.” But fortunately for an already smitten Terri, it had all been a ruse. When Steve had called out, “Hey Sue,” his beloved dog had come trotting along.
So, just a few months after first meeting, the two got engaged in February 1992. And the American was no stranger to animals and conservation herself; she had opened a rehabilitation facility for predatory mammals called Cougar Country in 1986. Three years later, too, she’d started working as a veterinary technician at an emergency hospital for animals. With a shared love of the great outdoors and creatures large and small, then, Terri and Steve were a perfect match. Terri told Oprah, “I think it’s definitely fate that brought us together.”
Steve and Terri tied the knot in June 1992 – less than ten months after their chance encounter at the now-named Australia Zoo. And rather than going on a conventional honeymoon after their wedding, the fun-loving pair instead chose to participate in a daring mission to rescue crocodiles. In a move that would change their lives forever, too, Terri and Steve decided to film their efforts for a TV documentary.
The production would make Steve and Terri wildlife superstars, of course. The honeymoon footage in fact became the opening episode of The Crocodile Hunter, which premiered on Discovery’s Animal Planet channel in 1996. Then Steve’s larger-than-life personality and his daring encounters with everything from angry crocs to vicious snakes – as well as Terri’s humor and poise – meant that soon enough the show launched to inconceivable popularity.
Steve would go on to become a major celebrity, and he was highly sought after in the media. His often-used catchphrases, such as “crikey!” became as synonymous with him as his khaki shorts and maverick behavior around wildlife. And the show itself was an astonishing success; in 2000 it was being watched in around 60 million American homes as well as in some 122 countries. Its merchandising also brought in considerable money for the Irwins, and the pair would use much of it to aid their conservation efforts and expand Australia Zoo.
The Crocodile Hunter ran for eight years until 2004, and a series of spin-off shows were launched off the back of the franchise’s astronomical success. These included Croc Diaries, Croc Files, New Breed Vets, and Steve Irwin’s Ghosts of War. There was even a feature-length movie entitled Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course created in 2002 amid all the buzz.
Despite the heavy workload, though, Terri still managed to find the time to give birth to daughter Bindi, in July 1998, and son Robert Clarence, in December 2003. Bindi – whose name comes from the Aboriginal word “young girl” – would eventually get her own spin off show entitled Bindi: The Jungle Girl, too. In between the birth of his two children, however, Steve would also mourn the death of his mother, Lyn, who tragically died in a car accident in 2000.
In 2004 Steve was further blighted by controversy after he fed a crocodile with his young son in his arms. But aside from these setbacks, everything seemed to be going swimmingly for the Irwins. The couple’s expanding Australia Zoo continued to be a great success, for instance, and the crocodile hunter himself was still very much in demand on TV. But in 2006 the Irwin family’s whole world would come crashing down.
That year, you see, Steve was killed in a shocking incident that reverberated around the world. The popular Australian was on an underwater shoot for an upcoming documentary series called Ocean’s Deadliest when a terrible tragedy unfolded.
How did it happen? Well, Steve was snorkeling off the coast of Port Douglas in the far north of Queensland, Australia, when he and cameraman Justin Lyons saw an eight-foot wide stingray swimming nearby. It must have been quite a sight for the pair to see this majestic marine giant cruising through the ocean water – so they decided to capture it in all its glory.
But as Justin was filming Steve swimming with the stingray, the fish apparently mistook the Australian for one of its predators. In 2014 the cameraman described the next moments during an interview with Australia’s Studio 10. He said, “I had the camera on, I thought this is going to be a great shot, and all of a sudden it propped on its front and started stabbing [Steve] wildly [with] hundreds of strikes in a few seconds.”
Justin continued, “I panned with the camera as the stingray swam away, and I didn’t know it had caused any damage. It was only when I panned the camera back that I saw Steve standing in a huge pool of blood that I realized something had gone wrong.”
“[Steve] had a two-inch-wide injury over his heart with blood and fluid coming out of it, and we had to get him back to the boat as fast as we [could],” Justin went on. “It’s a jagged barb, and it went through his chest like a hot knife through butter. I was saying to him things like, ‘Think of your kids, Steve, hang on, hang on, hang on,’ and he calmly looked up at me and said, ‘I’m dying.’ And that was the last thing he said.” Tragically, Steve died of a cardiac arrest at the age of 44.
When the news broke that Steve had died, tributes quickly poured in for the popular conservationist. Australia’s then-Prime Minister John Howard lauded the “passionate environmentalist” and told reporters that his death was “a huge loss to Australia.” Outside of the Irwin family’s Australia Zoo in Queensland, meanwhile, people left flowers and written messages as well as lit candles.
In September 2006 a memorial service for Steve was held at Australia Zoo. His wife and children were of course there, with approximately 5,000 others in attendance in the Crocoseum. Plus, 300 million people worldwide watched it on TV. Prime Minister John Howard delivered a eulogy, and close family friend Russell Crowe sent a message via satellite. Some Australians even compared the remarkable outpouring of grief as being similar to the feelings experienced in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death in 1997.
Bindi, who was only eight at the time, stood up and delivered a heartwarming speech to her departed father. According to reports, she said, “I have the best daddy in the whole world, and I will miss him every day. When I see a crocodile, I will always think of him, and I know that [he] made this zoo so everyone could come and learn to love all the animals. I don’t want daddy’s passion to ever end. I want to help endangered wildlife just like he did.”
Terri, meanwhile, had to try and put her own grief to one side and be strong for her young children. In a 2018 interview with People, she revealed how the support of her loved ones and Steve’s memory had guided her through the toughest times. Terri explained, “It was a little bit terrifying to have to step up and take the till. But I thought about it and said, ‘Let’s carry on as if Steve was still here.’”
Yet while the shock of Steve’s sudden death was palpable, the truth is that it may not have come as a massive surprise to Terri. That’s because Steve made a chilling confession to her not long before he died. And in the aforementioned appearance on Anh’s Brush With Fame, Terri revealed to the world exactly what that was.
“[Steve] never thought he’d have a long life,” Terri told the show’s host, Anh Do. “He always kind of had this sense his life would be cut short.” Yes, Steve Irwin, the erstwhile crocodile hunter, believed there was good chance that he would die young. And sadly, his premonition would come true.
In the emotional interview, Terri solemnly remembered the final time she saw Steve. Fighting back tears, she said, “I remember him at the airstrip waving goodbye.” Terri then said later that day she was told to make a phone call. She said, “I got to our destination for the night, and they said, ‘You need to call your zoo manager.’”
Terri recalled the subsequent moments to host Anh Do, saying, “I just remember this incredible sense of responsibility, this feeling of overwhelming grief but [also], ‘What do I do next?’ I kind of collected my thoughts and then had to go out to the car and tell Bindi and Robert… which was really hard.”
Though over a decade has passed since Steve’s passing, Terri’s grief and longing for her late husband haven’t gone away. She continued, “I’m just lonely for Steve. It’s just really hard not having [him].” Terri’s daughter Bindi has also spoken of her grief publicly, too, telling People, “I remember people coming up to me and saying, ‘I’m sorry for your loss, sweetheart. Time heals all wounds.’ But that’s just not true. It’s like losing a part of your heart, and when you’ve lost that, you never get it back.”
Terri added that she hasn’t been in a relationship with anyone else, nor even been on a date, since Steve’s passing. She continued, “I feel that we had that soulmate thing. And in the [more than] ten years since, I haven’t dated or even thought about it. Because I’m not afraid to be on my own.”
Interestingly, Terri opened up to Anh about first meeting Steve and revealed how she wasn’t even looking for love at the time. She said, “I always felt… if I hadn’t married Steve I wouldn’t have gotten married.” The mother-of-two also talked about how her grief hits at “the most bizarre times.” She continued, “So I might be talking to biology students, and it will remind me of Steve, and I will burst into tears. You don’t ever get over grief. It changes, but you never wake up one morning and go, ‘Oh, I’m done with that.’”
Finally, Terri confessed that there was one aspect of his death that Steve would never have believed. The mom said, “No one would’ve been more surprised than Steve at the outpouring [of] grief and love.” Yes, the khaki-clad Australian had really touched the hearts of millions of people worldwide.
For their part, though, Terri, Bindi and Robert have worked tirelessly to honor Steve’s memory in the best way possible: by continuing the amazing work Steve had started. Australia Zoo – which now encompasses an incredible 1,000 acres – is still very much in operation, and the family have dedicated themselves to animal conservation in a way that would make Steve really proud. Binda told Today in 2019, “[Working with animals] is a part of who we are, it’s not just what we do. We do want to carry on in Dad’s footsteps and make sure everything he worked so hard for continues on.”
Events have continuously been held in Steve’s name, too, including the Steve Irwin Gala Dinner that has taken place annually since 2016 in Brisbane and L.A. There is even a Steve Irwin Day that takes place on November 15 of each year, celebrating his memory and life’s work. And in April 2019, Robert, Terri and Bindi proudly unveiled a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame dedicated to the late wildlife warrior.
Bindi, Terri and Robert have subsequently continued to live their lives in the spotlight in the years since Steve’s death. In 2015, for instance, Bindi won the 21st season of Dancing With The Stars – dedicating her victory to her late father. And in October 2018 a new series called Crikey! It’s the Irwins premiered on Animal Planet. The documentary covers the family’s exploits in Australia Zoo and on numerous expeditions across Australia and abroad. With so many interesting things going on with the family, then, the future looks exciting indeed.