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13 Snappy Facts About The Crocodile Hunter

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In 1996, an Australian wildlife expert came from seemingly out of nowhere to become one of the world’s most famous television stars. Steve Irwin’s beloved wildlife series, The Crocodile Hunter, aired its final episode 10 years ago—on September 4, 2007—one year after Irwin was killed when a stingray pierced his chest during the filming of a documentary, Ocean’s Deadliest. Yet Irwin’s legacy has carried on, both through repeated viewing of his hit series and with the help of his family: wife Terri, daughter Bindi Sue, and son Bob. Here are 13 things you might not have known about The Crocodile Hunter.

1. STEVE IRWIN GREW UP AT A ZOO.

Irwin discovered his love of animals, and talent for handling them, at an early age. “My dad was a wildlife expert,” Irwin told Larry King in 2004. “His field was herpetology, one who studies reptiles, and my mom was a wildlife rehabilitator.” When Irwin was still a child, his family moved to Beerwah, near Queensland, Australia, to open the Beerwah Reptile Park in 1970. Steve spent his formative years helping to run the park, including feeding the animals, and eventually became its owner. It’s still in operation, but is now called the Australia Zoo.

2. IRWIN MET HIS WIFE, TERRI, AT THE AUSTRALIA ZOO.

Though Steve Irwin was the indisputable star of The Crocodile Hunter, his family—including his wife, Terri—played an integral role in the series. Much like her husband, Terri discovered her love of animals at an early age. She was born in Eugene, Oregon, where her family ran a trucking business and her father would regularly bring home injured animals he’d come across on the road. In 1986, Terri opened Cougar Country, a facility that helped to rehabilitate foxes, raccoons, bobcats, bears, and, of course, cougars and release them back into the wild.

In 1991, Terri took a trip to Australia and visited the Australia Zoo, where she first laid eyes on Steve during one of his crocodile shows. “I was absolutely floored,” Terri told Barbara Walters in 2006. “That was it. This man was a real-life hero. I fell then and there, love at first sight, not a problem. I said to my friend, ‘I got to meet this guy.’” The couple got engaged just four months later.

3. THE FIRST EPISODE WAS FILMED ON THE COUPLE’S HONEYMOON.


© 2002 - Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Appropriately, Steve and Terri spent their honeymoon traveling around Australia trapping crocodiles for relocation. Then they got a call “that there was a crocodile that needed help,” Terri recounted to Scientific American. “We dropped our honeymoon, we went to north Queensland, and we helped this crocodile and filmed a documentary on the premise that the cameraman just chases Steve around. Steve hadn't been to acting school, he had no preconceived notions. His background was exactly what you see on television, he's done that all his life. We thought we'd do one show. What happened was, it did really well, so we did a part two. And from then on, we found that Steve's natural behavior in the wild happens to be fascinating!” Recognizing that Steve’s enthusiasm would be a huge draw for audiences, Animal Planet picked up The Crocodile Hunter as a regular series.

4. IRWIN BELIEVED HIS ENTHUSIASM WAS THE KEY TO THE SHOW’S SUCCESS.

When asked by Scientific American about what he attributed the show’s immense popularity to, Irwin quipped, “Nothing to do with my looks, that's for sure! Yeah, I normally get a big croc out in the foreground of any filming.” But he did have a real theory: “You know what I reckon it is? My belief is that what comes across on the television is a capture of my enthusiasm and my passion for wildlife. Since I was a boy, from this house, I was out rescuing crocodiles and snakes. My mum and dad were very passionate about that, and I was lucky enough to go along. The first crocodile I ever caught was at nine years of age, and it was a rescue. So now what happens is the cameras follow me around and capture exactly what I've been doing since I was a boy. Only now we have a team of, you know, like 73 of us, and it's gone beyond that.

"As the audience, I want you to come with me, right? So we get cameras, every one of us, if we've got a four- or five-man film crew, including myself and Terri. Every one of us can use a camera. I have one in my green backpack that I pull out for the hardcore shots where you've gotta get right in there, so the camera's always right there, in there, while I'm doing my thing. So when I'm talking to the camera, I'm talking to you, in your living room.”

5. THE SHOW’S POPULARITY SPREAD FAR BEYOND AMERICA.

Though The Crocodile Hunter was a huge hit in America as well as Irwin’s native Australia, its popularity reached far beyond those two countries. The series was seen, and beloved, by more than 500 million people in 130 countries around the world.

6. CREATING AWARENESS ABOUT CONSERVATIONISM WAS THE SHOW’S MAIN GOAL.


© 2002 - Metro Goldwyn Mayer

While many viewers tuned into The Crocodile Hunter to witness Irwin’s zany antics while going head-to-head with some of the world’s most feared creatures, Irwin’s main goal was to educate the public about these animals and dispel the many myths surrounding them.

“I've always seen Jacques Cousteau as a hero,” he said. “He's a legend, like my dad, just a legend. And so what he did for conservation in the '60s through the '70s was just phenomenal. And I want to be just like him, you know? I want to have a milestone, you know? I want to create history. So we've gone beyond the media that we're working with now, and we're taking the media, we're taking the ‘Croc Hunter’ message, we're taking conservation, and the greening of our planet to kids’ toys, to shirts, you know, our shirts will be an advertisement of conservation. It's like we're taking it to the nth degree. In fact, we probably won't stop there either. If there's another medium where we can just get people excited about conservation we'll take it, we'll run with it.”

7. THE SHOW’S POPULARITY ALLOWED HIM TO EXPAND THE AUSTRALIA ZOO.

The success of The Crocodile Hunter allowed Irwin to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams by expanding the Australia Zoo to include a “Crocoseum.” The space gives visitors the chance to see how crocodiles behave in nature by housing them in clear water ponds. “Crocodiles use the murkiness of the water in their territory to camouflage from their prey,” explains the zoo’s website. “By using clear water, we can highlight for you the dangers that can be lurking just below the surface of a seemingly serene billabong.”

8. HE WASN’T IMMUNE TO BEING BITTEN, AND KNEW IT MADE GREAT TELEVISION.

It's only natural that some of Irwin’s animal co-stars would make their reluctance to be put in front of the cameras known. "Steve Irwin's all pretty interesting on the telly or in the movie and that, but by crikey, it's great when he gets bitten," Irwin told ABC Australia. "Now and again I do get bitten ... And it's that, you know, that sense of morbidity that people do have. There's no use sticking your head in the sand and going, 'Oh, no, they're only here because, you know, I talk well.' Nah, man, they wanna see me come unglued.”

9. HE CAUSED A MAJOR CONTROVERSY WHEN HE FED A CROCODILE WHILE HOLDING HIS INFANT SON.

In 2004, during a live show, Irwin caused a media stir when footage and photos of him emerged feeding a chicken carcass to a croc with one hand while holding his one-month-old son, Bob, in the other. Comparisons were quickly made to the time, two years earlier, that Michael Jackson had dangled his newborn son, Prince Michael II, over a hotel balcony. But Irwin was quick to dismiss the allegations that he had put his child in harm’s way. He claimed that the photo that surfaced was actually just taken at an amazingly great angle, which made it appear as if his son was much closer to the croc than he ever actually was.

“They were very lucky,” Irwin told Larry King of the photographers who snapped the photo. “They, out of those three news crews, they showed it at the head and saw this stacked vision and they're like, wow, this is great stuff! Bam! That was it. It just went.” When King asked whether Bob was ever in danger, Irwin said, “Not once, ever never. The funny thing is I've been doing it with Bindi for like five odd years and I would never endanger my children.”

When King asked why Irwin had gone on the TODAY Show to apologize for the incident if Bob was never in danger, Irwin insisted that, “I was apologizing for scaring people. That was never my intention. My intention was strictly and only to show people, here's my little baby boy. I would never endanger my son as you wouldn't yours nor any good father.”

10. HE WAS AFRAID OF PARROTS. 

Though Irwin wasn’t afraid to face off against some of the world’s most terrifying reptiles, he wasn’t totally fearless when it came to animals. When asked if there was any type of animal that did frighten him, Irwin admitted that, “The only animals I'm not comfortable with are parrots, but I'm learning as I go. I'm getting better and better at 'em. I really am … For some reason parrots have to bite me. That's their job. I don't know why that is. They've nearly torn my nose off. I've had some really bad parrot bites.”

11. HE DISCOVERED A NEW SPECIES OF TURTLE.

While on a fishing trip with his dad, Steve caught a turtle on his line that didn’t look like any creature either Irwin had seen before. So they took some pictures and sent them off to herpetologist John Cann, who confirmed that the animal was a never-before-discovered species. In honor of its discoverers, Cann named the species Elseya irwini, or Irwin’s snapping turtle. (Baltimore’s National Aquarium is the only place to see one outside of Australia.)

12. THERE’S A SNAIL NAMED AFTER HIM AND HIS FAMOUS CATCHPHRASE.

You didn’t have to watch much of The Crocodile Hunter to learn that Irwin was famous for shouting the phrase “Crikey!” In 2009, Dr. John Stanisic, a scientist at the Queensland Museum, discovered a new type of tree snail and named it crikey steveirwini. Stanisic told ABC Australia that the creature was "a colorful snail, with swirling bands of creamy yellow, orange-brown and chocolate giving the shell an overall khaki appearance” and that “It was the khaki color that immediately drew the connection to the late Crocodile Hunter." Crikey!

13. ROBERT IRWIN IS FOLLOWING IN HIS FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS.

Whatever your opinion on the controversy that swirled around Steve feeding a crocodile while holding his infant son, one person who clearly wasn’t frightened was Robert Irwin himself. Now 13 years old, Bob—who appeared alongside his mom Terri and sister Bindi on Steve Irwin's Wildlife Warriors and co-hosted Wild But True for Discovery Kids Channel in 2015 and 2016—is clearly looking to follow in his famous father’s footsteps. Earlier this year, he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, where he introduced the host to a handful of animals (including a cuddly sloth).

Bindi Sue has also become a television staple. Beginning in 2007, Bindi had her own Discovery Kids series, Bindi the Jungle Girl. She also starred with her brother on Growing Up Wild for The Pet Collective YouTube channel. In 2015, she showed off her dancing skills when she was crowned the winner of the 21st season of Dancing With the Stars.

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John P. Johnson, HBO
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Charles Dickens Wrote His Own Version of Westworld in the 1830s
John P. Johnson, HBO
John P. Johnson, HBO

Charles Dickens never fully devoted himself to science fiction, but if he had, his work might have looked something like the present-day HBO series Westworld. As The Conversation reports, the author explored a very similar premise to the show in The Mudfrog Papers, a collection of sketches that originally appeared in the magazine Bentley's Miscellany between 1837 and 1838.

In the story "Full Report of the Second Meeting of the Mudfog Association for the Advancement of Everything," a scientist describes his plan for a park where rich young men can take out their aggression on "automaton figures." In Dickens's story, the opportunity to pursue those cruel urges is the park's main appeal. The theme park in Westworld may have been founded with a slightly less cynical vision, but it has a similar outcome. Guests can live out their heroic fantasies, but if they have darker impulses, they can act on those as well.

Instead of sending guests back in time, Dickens's attraction presents visitors with a place very similar to their own home. According to the scientist's pitch, the idyllic, Victorian scene contains roads, bridges, and small villages in a walled-off space at least 10 miles wide. Each feature is designed for destruction, including cheap gas lamps made of real glass. It's populated with robot cops, cab drivers, and elderly women who, when beaten, produce “groans, mingled with entreaties for mercy, thus rendering the illusion complete, and the enjoyment perfect.”

There are no consequences for harming the hosts in Westworld, but the guests at Dickens's park are at least sent to a mock trial for their crimes. However, rather than paying for their misbehavior, the hooligans always earn the mercy of an automated judge—Dickens's allegory for how the law favors the rich and privileged in the real world.

As for the Victorian-era automatons gaining sentience and overthrowing their tormenters? Dickens never got that far. But who knows where he would have taken it given a two-season HBO deal.

[h/t The Conversation]

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Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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10 Fascinating Facts About Ella Fitzgerald
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Library of Congress (LOC), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Today marks what would have been the 101st birthday of Ella Fitzgerald, the pioneering jazz singer who helped revolutionize the genre. But the iconic songstress’s foray into the music industry was almost accidental, as she had planned to show off her dancing skills when she made her stage debut. Celebrate the birthday of the artist known as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, or just plain ol’ Lady Ella with these fascinating facts.

1. SHE WAS A JAZZ FAN FROM A YOUNG AGE.

Though she attempted to launch her career as a dancer (more on that in a moment), Ella Fitzgerald was a jazz enthusiast from a very young age. She was a fan of Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, and truly idolized Connee Boswell of the Boswell Sisters. “She was tops at the time,” Fitzgerald said in 1988. “I was attracted to her immediately. My mother brought home one of her records, and I fell in love with it. I tried so hard to sound just like her.”

2. SHE DABBLED IN CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES AS A TEENAGER.

A photo of Ella Fitzgerald
Carl Van Vechten - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Fitzgerald’s childhood wasn’t an easy one. Her stepfather was reportedly abusive to her, and that abuse continued following the death of Fitzgerald’s mother in 1932. Eventually, to escape the violence, she moved to Harlem to live with her aunt. While she had been a great student when she was younger, it was following that move that her dedication to education faltered. Her grades dropped and she often skipped school. But she found other ways to fill her days, not all of them legal: According to The New York Times, she worked for a mafia numbers runner and served as a police lookout at a local brothel. Her illicit activities eventually landed her in an orphanage, followed by a state reformatory.

3. SHE MADE HER STAGE DEBUT AT THE APOLLO THEATER.

In the early 1930s, Fitzgerald was able to make a little pocket change from the tips she made from passersby while singing on the streets of Harlem. In 1934, she finally got the chance to step onto a real (and very famous) stage when she took part in an Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater on November 21, 1934. It was her stage debut.

The then-17-year-old managed to wow the crowd by channeling her inner Connee Boswell and belting out her renditions of “Judy” and “The Object of My Affection.” She won, and took home a $25 prize. Here’s the interesting part: She entered the competition as a dancer. But when she saw that she had some stiff competition in that department, she opted to sing instead. It was the first big step toward a career in music.

4. A NURSERY RHYME HELPED HER GET THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION.

Not long after her successful debut at the Apollo, Fitzgerald met bandleader Chick Webb. Though he was initially reluctant to hire her because of what The New York Times described as her “gawky and unkempt” appearance, her powerful voice won him over. "I thought my singing was pretty much hollering," she later said, "but Webb didn't."

Her first hit was a unique adaptation of “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which she helped to write based on what she described as "that old drop-the-handkerchief game I played from 6 to 7 years old on up."

5. SHE WAS PAINFULLY SHY.

Though it certainly takes a lot of courage to get up and perform in front of the world, those who knew and worked with Fitzgerald said that she was extremely shy. In Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz, trumpeter Mario Bauzá—who played with Fitzgerald in Chick Webb’s orchestra—explained that “she didn't hang out much. When she got into the band, she was dedicated to her music … She was a lonely girl around New York, just kept herself to herself, for the gig."

6. SHE MADE HER FILM DEBUT IN AN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MOVIE.

As her IMDb profile attests, Fitzgerald contributed to a number of films and television series over the years, and not just to the soundtracks. She also worked as an actress on a handful of occasions (often an actress who sings), beginning with 1942’s Ride ‘Em Cowboy, a comedy-western starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

7. SHE GOT SOME HELP FROM MARILYN MONROE.

“I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt,” Fitzgerald said in a 1972 interview in Ms. Magazine. “It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him—and it was true, due to Marilyn’s superstar status—that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard … After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman—a little ahead of her times. And she didn’t know it.”

Though it has often been reported that the club’s owner did not want to book Fitzgerald because she was black, it was later explained that his reluctance wasn’t due to Fitzgerald’s race; he apparently didn’t believe that she was “glamorous” enough for the patrons to whom he catered.

8. SHE WAS THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN TO WIN A GRAMMY.

Ella Fitzgerald
William P. Gottlieb - LOC, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Among her many other accomplishments, in 1958 Fitzgerald became the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award. Actually, she won two awards that night: one for Best Jazz Performance, Soloist for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, and another for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook.

9. HER FINAL PERFORMANCE WAS AT CARNEGIE HALL.

On June 27, 1991, Fitzgerald—who had, at that point, recorded more than 200 albums—performed at Carnegie Hall. It was the 26th time she had performed at the venue, and it ended up being her final performance.

10. SHE LOST BOTH OF HER LEGS TO DIABETES.

In her later years, Fitzgerald suffered from a number of health problems. She was hospitalized a handful of times during the 1980s for everything from respiratory problems to exhaustion. She also suffered from diabetes, which took much of her eyesight and led to her having to have both of her legs amputated below the knee in 1993. She never fully recovered from the surgery and never performed again. She passed away at her home in Beverly Hills on June 15, 1996.

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