A public memorial service for “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin began Wednesday with a tribute from actor Russell Crowe.
“It was way too soon for all of us,” Crowe said in the recorded tribute. “We have lost a friend, a champion. It will take some time to adjust to that.”
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, among the 5,000 in attendance at the Australia Zoo for the ceremony, was the first to speak at the memorial.
“This is ... a celebration of terrific life well-lived,” Howard said. “For all of us, it is touched with the deepest possible conceivable sadness.”
As expected, there was one empty seat at Steve Irwin’s personal stadium — the one set aside for the late and hugely popular “Crocodile Hunter” himself.
A zany television entertainer and conservationist, Irwin, 44, was killed Sept. 4 when the barb from a stingray pierced his chest while he was filming for a TV show on the Great Barrier Reef. His family held a private funeral service for him on Sept. 9 at Australia Zoo.
Flags on the Sydney Harbor Bridge flew Wednesday at half-staff, and giant television screens were set up in Irwin’s home state of Queensland for people to watch the service. Three of Australia’s main television networks carried the hour-long ceremony, which was to be made available to U.S. and international networks and which family officials said could be watched by as many as 300 million people.