It is so often the case that notable citizens end up being even larger, and more widely appreciated, in death than they are in life. That will surely be the case with Steve Irwin.
His death yesterday has been reported almost as extensively in the United States as it is being in Australia today. And it has also had extensive coverage in the United Kingdom.
Fox and Friends is the leading cable television breakfast program in the US. Last night I tuned in at 8pm (6am New York time) and the story led the program. There were extensive tributes to Steve Irwin and a re-run of his appearance on the program a couple of years ago.
The Monday evening news on Sky UK led with the terrorist attack in Jordan (in which a UK citizen was killed) but was quickly followed by a 20-minute tribute to Steve Irwin.
I think most Australians have always known that Steve Irwin was one of the best known Australians overseas - but the true extent of his popularity is only now emerging. While it is true that Irwin has been extensively used in Australian tourism marketing campaigns overseas, perhaps he was undersold at home.
The outpouring of sorrow at his passing is growing by the hour. The open line programs this morning have been dominated by teary callers of all ages.
One can only imagine what emotional impact his death, and the circumstances of his death, might be having on school children right around Australia. Steve Irwin has been an integral part of their life and education. Many will struggle to understand how someone who was so comfortable with the most dangerous of the world’s wildlife could be taken by a stingray - the last recorded death in Australia from a stingray was 60 years ago.
But it is in the United States that Steve Irwin has an even greater impact than he did in Australia.
Richard Arnold, a veteran Australian USA correspondent, reported on Radio 4BC this morning that his death is the biggest story out of Australia in his 25 years in the US.
The Los Angeles Times, for example, reported the story extensively … and the story has been the most viewed on its website. Every major USA newspaper has given his death prominence.
I guess most Australians would believe the Nicole Kidman’s of the entertainment world would be the best known Australians in the US. Apparently not so - Steve Irwin seems to have had a wider and deeper impact. His death is a tragedy for his wife and young family. It is also a tragedy for Australia.
He had so much to offer the nation … just as he had done constantly, and so willingly, since he really came to prominence in the early 1990’s. He did attract controversy and criticism, but one suspects that was more often than not deliberate, targeted, and successful! And he rose above his critics and detractors with consummate ease.
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