'Croc Hunter' gets high-octane farewell*
BEERWAH, Australia, Sept 20 (AFP) Sep 20, 2006
Family, friends, fans and movie stars on Wednesday bade a final farewell
to "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin in a high-energy memorial service
fuelled by laughter, tears and music.
Irwin's American widow Terri and her two children appeared in public for
the first time since the daredevil naturalist's death in a freak
stingray attack two weeks ago to hear a wave of emotional tributes to
the Aussie hero.
But it was his stunningly poised daughter, eight-year-old Bindi, who
stole the show and brought the 5,000 mourners to their feet and to tears
when she hailed her dad's work and pledged to follow in his footsteps.
"My daddy was my hero -- he was always there for me when I needed him,"
the youngster, clad in a khaki safari suit made famous by her dad, told
the crowd at Irwin's beloved Australia Zoo in northeastern Queensland state.
"We filmed together, caught crocodiles together, loved being in the bush
together," she said, tracing the words on the page with her finger.
"I don't want daddy's passion ever to end. I want to help endangered
wildlife just like he did," she told the cheering crowd cramming the
zoo's "Crocoseum", where Irwin once wrangled all manner of dangerous
Terri Irwin, wearing dark glasses and her husband's signature khaki,
clutched their two-year-old son, Robert, but did not speak. Beside her
was the only empty seat in the stadium, symbolically reserved for the
The tousle-haired adventurer's dad Bob choked back tears as he said
goodbye to his celebrity son, who he describes as "just an ordinary
"Please don't grieve for Steve -- he's at peace now. But I'd like you to
grieve for the animals, for the animals have lost the best friend they
ever had and so have I," he said.
The service was broadcast live to up to 300 million people across
Australia and the world, reflecting the extraordinary impact of the
Prime Minister John Howard opened the service and movie, music and
television stars including Russell Crowe, Cameron Diaz, Hugh Jackman,
Kevin Costner, Justin Timberlake and Larry King all offered video tributes.
Howard told Irwin's family that Australians felt their grief.
"There are 20 million pairs of Australian arms reaching out to embrace
you this morning," he said, praising the ebullient star's "quality of
being genuine, being authentic" and his "great zest for life".
The memorial for Irwin, killed when a stingray's barb pierced his chest
as he snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef on September 4, was slick,
fast-paced and punctuated by a flurry of action-packed video clips, set
During the one-hour ceremony, Irwin was hailed in songs as a "hero" and
"action man," and lauded by speakers as a great father and
conservationist, all under the slogan "He changed our world".
The crowd giggled as footage of Irwin falling out of boats, being lunged
at by crocodiles and lizards, fluffing his lines and falling out of
trees played on large screens.
Crowe, an Oscar winner and fellow Aussie, said in a tribute filmed in
New York that his pal's death was unfair.
"Your passing has suspended reality for all of us. It was way too soon
and completely unfair on all accounts.
"I know as humble as you always were, you would still be pleased to know
that the world sends its love and people all over this planet have been
grieving," Crowe said, adding that his friend was not an ordinary
"Something About Mary" star Diaz, who visited Australia Zoo in 2004 with
boyfriend Timberlake, said Irwin was adored by young and old. "Every kid
was in love with the idea of being able to be him," she said.
Thousands of fans who queued overnight last week to snap up the 3,000
public tickets to the show began streaming into the zoo about two hours
before the ceremony started.
A heavy police presence surrounded the zoo in the town of Beerwah, while
roads in the area were clogged by the vehicles.
At the end of the service, Irwin's truck, packed with his favourite
possessions including surfboard, bedroll and other equipment, passed a
khaki-clad guard of honour before disappearing into the distance.
As it did, Australian singer John Williamson sang Irwin's favourite
tune, "True Blue," as Irwin's family broke down.
"It was certainly something that Steve would have been proud of," Bob