I wrote this tribute to Steve Irwin soon after he died at the age of 44 on September 4, 2006, the day after Father’s Day. Steve died suddenly when he was struck by a stingray when filming a documentary on the Great Barrier Reef.
I have analysed Steve drawing on the Enneagram system of personality types. Under the system, Steve was a Type Two, The Helper with a Three wing, of the Achiever and I believe he was functioning at a high level.
The loveable Steve Irwin won the hearts of millions of people.
My brother Steve was also a rugged outdoors bloke and great sportsman; a Karate black belt, a scuba diver and hockey star. He was just as exuberant, affectionate and generous as Australia’s famous Crocodile Hunter and wildlife warrior.
Understanding Steve Irwin
The remarkable late great Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin had the charismatic personality of the Type Two with a Type Three wing. We all knew that the irrepressible media star was an entertaining character however few people knew that he was a truly great man until his death. Most of us believe we are psychologically healthy but in fact we are usually functioning at an average level, blighted by negative traits, which show up in our close relationships and destructive habits. Steve Irwin was rare. He had risen to his full potential as a human being, expressing the very best qualities of his type. At the end of his dynamic life at the young age of 44, Steve had reached a spiritual pinnacle.
At the healthy level, the Two experiences unconditional love. Steve Irwin loved fiercely, without restraint, his beautiful wife Terri and young children, Bindi and Bob, his parents and sisters, his mates and workers, his public and all who came within his exuberant presence.
How did Steve rise to his full potential? He was blessed with a happy childhood and lavished with support and encouragement from devoted parents. Another reason for his high level functioning was the constant respect, admiration and support he received from his wife. He did not suffer emotional wounding in his marriage, rather his emotional needs were met. He was also given the opportunities to do what he brought out the best in him; run a zoo and travel the planet filming wildlife shows.
As passionately as he loved the humans in his life, Steve loved animals. Growing up handling reptiles and animals, he had developed a rapport, a heightened empathy and compassion for all God’s creatures. He bonded with them. It was as if he could see inside them, understand their feelings, and connect with them. He empathised with their suffering and fought to protect and save endangered species.
In rare footage with a mother orang-utan, he was enraptured by the big-eyed, affectionate furry mammal. Steve was a combination of masculine protective love, maternal nurturing love and child-like innocence, trust and wonder. He was also positive and all embracing like a child, not faultfinding or critical. He simply loved universally.
Mother Teresa was another magnificent example of a Two with a Three wing who exuded unconditional love. Just as she could embrace filthy outcasts and declare that she saw the beauty of Christ in their faces, Steve Irwin could get up close and personal with cold-blooded crocodiles and venom-spitting snakes and appreciate their unique beauty.
His passionate relationship with Terri was the ultimate love story. It was love at first sight when they met in 1991 at his zoo and married in June 1992 in Oregon. They adored each other every day of their 14 years of marriage. Terri was blessed with the kind of husband most women dream of, and yet the cost of such love is her agonising grief at his loss. As she bravely revealed her television interviews, Terri’s heartbreaking grief is almost unbearable. With his early death, she is denied a future with a devoted husband and father and the fulfilment of growing old with her soul mate. It seems a cruel fate, to have loved so deeply and lost him so young. Yet it is a test that can transform her into an extraordinary human being also. Inspired by his strength and their eternal bond, Terri is committed to continuing his great work.
He was the most affectionate and fun-loving, adventurous dad kids could ever dream of. Little Bindi and Bob are left to mourn a father who was a true hero. Bindi understood her Dad’s mission of kindling love for animals in others. She said at his memorial service, with the profound wisdom of a child, that he wanted people to love animals as much as he did so they would save them.
Everyone felt they knew Steve personally through his larger-than-life on-screen persona. The love Steve Irwin gave so freely was returned in full when the whole of Australia and 300 million people around the world watched his memorial service at the zoo’s Crocoseum and mourned by his passing and paid tribute to his extraordinary life. Aussies and Americans wept buckets as though we had lost a mate, a brother, a son and a champion.
With such fearless confidence handling dangerous animals, it seemed Steve was indestructible. But his big heart was unprotected. In a tragic irony it was his loving heart that was pierced by the poisonous barb of a stingray, usually a timid creature, while diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Steve would be thankfully he was not mauled by a croc or killed by a deadly snake, the despised and misunderstood creatures he championed.
Some cynics questioned whether this guy was for real or just acting when they saw Steve’s crazy enthusiasm for wildlife in his documentaries and crocodile shows at Australia Zoo. Was he just a clever showman hamming up the Aussie character or was he genuine? Steve Irwin was no fake. He was for real, 100 per cent ridgie didge, true blue, fair dinkum.
Steve was more than an Aussie character, he has become an Aussie icon, epitomising everything good about the Australian character; unpretentious down to earth honesty, mischievous larrikinism, generous friendliness and unprejudiced acceptance of all and sundry.
When the Three Wing of Steve’s personality integrated to a healthy level, he discovered the authenticity that average Threes lack. The average Three is locked into a false image, dependent on approval and out of touch with their true feelings, needs, values and desires. Steve had risen above this.
Not only was he courageous with dangerous animals, he had the emotional courage to fully feel and express a full range of emotions, from unbounded joy to gut wrenching grief. When his beloved mother died in a car crash in 2002, Steve wept openly and showed his pain and vulnerability to the world, without defences. He left himself open to ridicule but he demonstrated to men that tears are in fact a sign of strength and being real.
He possessed clarity about his values. His devotion to his marriage and family and his divine mission of saving wildlife were unwavering.
Brimming with Energy
His Type Three wing is known as The Achiever. When watching Steve’s humorous screen antics, it is easy to overlook his immense skills and knowledge that allowed him to handle dangerous animals and educate and inspire in such riveting style. In his memorial service, a scientist paid tribute to his expertise saying Steve possessed the curiosity of a great scientist and he was about to be made an honorary professor with the University of Queensland.
Leaving A Legacy
It seems that remarkable achievers typically live hard and fast and die young. He fearlessly courted death every day and had a sense he would die young. Steve packed more into 44 extraordinary years than 100 ordinary lifetimes. He had reached a pinnacle of creativity and influence but we still feel cheated of a hero and are left to wonder what he would have achieved with another 30 or 40 years of life.
And yet if we all take Steve’s inspiration into our hearts we can multiple his good work by millions. He might become even more powerful in death, than life, as the world realises what we’ve lost. His dramatic death is a global wake-up call.
Australia Zoo and the wildlife hospital is a phenomenal success, which employs 500 staff and attracts visitors from around the globe. Steve’s foundation, Wildlife Warriors Worldwide has purchased vast tracts of habitat and is committed to research, wildlife rescue, community education and tiger and elephant conservation.
Steve Irwin made more than 50 documentaries, a series for the US Discovery Channel, a movie and he was working on Bindi’s TV series, Jungle Girl. His spirit of pure love and joy lives on. His radiant face and captivating antics have been immortalised on countless films and photos for all time.
If you believe in Heaven you can be sure that Steve Irwin is there. Perhaps in his spirit he felt his work on the planet was complete. It was as if he knew the end was close and he was being called Home. His early death is a great a tragedy for his family and loss to humanity however he possessed the rare ability to inspire countless thousands of people to take up the cause of conservation and become Wildlife Warriors and carry on his courageous work. That’s the ultimate legacy. And we are grateful for his extraordinary life.
For more information on the Enneagram, read Personality Types, Using The Enneagram, for Self-Discovery, by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson or visit www.enneagraminstitute.com