Animal Attraction for Wildlife Lovers Steve and Terri Irwin, Life's Greatest Hunt Led to Romance

Article excerpt

Byline: Dann Gire Daily Herald Film Critic

Terri knew. She just knew.

"Ten years ago, all the rage in Australia was Paul Hogan," she said. "I said to Steve, 'Someday, you'll be bigger than Hoge!' Steve looked at me and said, 'What are you talking about?' So just awhile back, we're at an airport and a guy walks up to us and says, 'Hi! Ah'm from Mississippi and I just wanna say that you all are bigger than Paul Hogan!'"

Terri cut loose with a Macaulay Culkin "Yesssssss!"

"I could see where Steve was going and the ride is only beginning and it's getting bigger," she said.

And bigger and bigger.

After reaching fame as "The Crocodile Hunter" on cable TV's Animal Planet channel, Australian wildlife enthusiast Steve Irwin has branched out to lucrative TV commercials (the ones where someone shouts "Crikey!") and guest shots on talk shows.

Steve even parodied himself with a guest appearance in "Dr. Dolittle 2." Now, he and his wonder woman of a wife, Terri, prepare to conquer the silver screen with their comic adventure "The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course," opening July 12.

Irwin's character doesn't have a name taken from a family pet, as Indiana Jones did. In "Collision Course," the Irwins play themselves, protectors of the Outback who run afoul of bungling CIA agents retrieving a top-secret capsule swallowed by a crocodile.

To promote the film, the Irwins negotiated the jungles of Chicago's Rainforest Cafe, where they pitched camp in a corner booth. There, they exhibited more basic instinct than the animals around them.

"It's been nothing but passion," Terri said of her marriage to Steve. "In our lowest points and our highest points, we've always been passionate."

The former Terri Raines grew up in Eugene, Ore., where she started a rehab facility for injured bears, cougars, raccoons and bobcats so they could be safely set free in the wild.

Steve's parents, Bob and Lyn Irwin, founded the Australia Zoo. As a kid, Steve helped his father capture and relocate crocodiles in the rivers of North Queensland.

So, how did these two meet?

"Well, I'd been catching crocodiles for about two years, so I hadn't seen girls for a long, long time," Steve began.

"That gave me an edge," Terri inserted.

"Yeah, it gave her an edge," Steve continued. "I was at the Australia Zoo doing a crocodile demonstration when I saw this woman in the crowd. Our eyes met. And I was flabbergasted that such a drop-dead gorgeous woman was staring back at me."

Terri said, "I saw this guy doing a crocodile demonstration. He was talking about crocodiles being these wonderful loving mothers with their beautiful Bette Davis eyes, and how they're such passionate lovers. And I thought, 'Are we talking about crocodiles here?'"

Steve said, "Then, after everyone left, she stayed behind. As soon as we started talking about wildlife issues, I knew this woman was the best thing I'd ever seen. Not only was she drop-dead gorgeous, but her attitudes about wildlife were equal to mine."

Terri said, "I thought he was the most wonderful man. After we started talking, we hit it off. I mean, there were sparks, because we're both so passionate about wildlife. Then he came to see me."

So he made the first move?

"Yes, yes, he did," Terri said. "He was just begging."

"Awww, right!" Steve blustered.

"Just stick to the facts!"

"Yes," Terri continued, "he was a lonely, single man."

"Well, you at least got one thing right," Steve said.

"Yes, you were lonely," she said. She went back to Australia to see him. That trip sealed the deal.

"He took me on a crocodile survey," Terri recalled. "At night it gets so dark there, and it looks so eerie and the river comes to life. The fish are jumping and the frogs are going and the fruit bats are flying overhead, and we looked for the eye-shine of the crocs. …