Steve Irwin died in 2006 but his daughter, now 20, describes her continued sense of loss

By Emily Strohm
December 26, 2018 08:00 AM
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Bindi Irwin’s father, Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, may have died more than 12 years ago, but his family is still feeling his absence every day.

After rising to international fame on his wildlife documentary television series The Crocodile Hunter, Steve was working on an underwater film titled Ocean’s Deadliest when he was attacked by a stingray and died on Sept. 4, 2006, at age 44. Bindi was just 8 years old; Robert was only 2. The news came as a shock around the world.

“I remember people coming up to me and saying, ‘I’m sorry for your loss, sweetheart. Time heals all wounds.’ But that’s just not true,” says Bindi. “It’s like losing a part of your heart, and when you’ve lost that, you never get it back.”

Jason Ierace

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Courtesy the Irwin Family

The family — Bindi, 20, younger brother Robert, 15, and mother Terri, 54 — is dedicated more than ever to continuing Steve’s environmental mission. In addition to expanding the zoo and traveling the world to spread the message of their conservation nonprofit Wildlife Warriors, the Irwins made their long-awaited return to television in October. Their new Animal Planet series Crikey! It’s the Irwins (Sundays at 8 p.m.) follows their life at home at the zoo where they live and work.

For the full story on the Irwin family, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Dec. 26.

“I sure hope dad would be proud,” Bindi says. “We really do try every day to make him proud and follow in his footsteps. I hope that somewhere he’s out there going, ‘Yes! You did good!'”

When it comes to the family’s future, one thing is for certain: “No matter where we go, or what we do, we’ll always come back here,” says Robert. “This is our passion. It’s a part of us and Australia Zoo will always be home.”