Posted on Atrios' blog:
When I was young (in the 1970's) one of my favorite shows was "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" hosted by Marlin Perkins. That show was the ONLY show of its kind on the tube in those pre-cable days. Nowhere else would you see wildlife in their natural environment, or learn about the efforts of naturalists to preserve them in the face of the ever-expanding human encroachment on their habitat. That show, more than any other, made we aware of environmental issues and shaped my views in ways that still affect me today.
After "Wild Kingdom" went off the air and Jacques Cousteau's (the other great 70's TV naturalist) "Undersea World" sank beneath the waves, there were practically NO shows about animals on TV that I was aware of. Even with the coming of cable, and the National Geographic specials and TLC and Discovery, none of the shows really engaged me like "Wild Kingdom" had done.
Then I was flipping channels one day and saw this goofy Australian straight out of central casting talking about crocodiles. I was born and raised in Louisiana so I'm quite aware of their not-quite-cousins (alligators), and he seemed really excited so I stopped to watch. At the end of the show it hit me: this was the first naturalist since Marlin Perkins who really made his work INTERESTING, even fun to watch. Steve Irwin blazed a trail for the resurgence of the TV naturalist. His ability to connect with the audience and make wildlife understandable to people who may not know the first thing about King Brown snakes other than as menaces to be killed was a priceless gift. All of us, especially those of us on the left who are supposed to view the environment as something to be preserved rather than merely as a source of raw materials, have lost one of our most valuable advocates. It's not too much of a stretch to compare his loss to the natural world with JFK's loss to the United States politically, or Princess Diana's to the world, in terms of love and respect for a fundamentally decent person who tried to do their best.