By Debbie Emery – Radar Reporter
Timothy Treadwell‘s unbreakable bond with animals and reckless regard for his own safety led to the creation of some of the most spectacular footage of bears the world has ever seen – and ultimately led to his violent death at age 46.
Friday marks the ninth anniversary of when the wildlife preservationist and documentary filmmaker was killed by one of his subjects on October 5, 2003, and in remembrance RadarOnline.com is celebrating the life of the grizzly bears’ best friend.
Born in Long Island, New York far away from the majestic tundras of Alaska where he would meet his grisly demise, Treadwell went on to suffer from serious drug and alcohol problems and had several brushes with the law while living in California as an aspiring actor and bartender.
Tim’s downward spiral was reportedly sparked by his devastation at missing out on the role of Woody Boyd in Cheers to Woody Harrelson, and the disappointment and shock led him first to the bottle and later to the wilderness.
To battle his demons, Treadwell made the long trip to Alaska where he camped in the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary in 1989. He was blown away by the magnitude of the natural environment and by 1992 was spending every summer up there living among the bears as they gathered for salmon runs in the Katmai National Park and Reserve, while he frantically chronicled their every move in his now fabled diary.
“Wow! Wow! Wow! One of the most exciting days in my life at the Maze’s Back Creek. Popping over the Secret Trail — from camp to the Back Creek Mt. Overlook — I could see several bears = Freckles still ruling, holding up the main area of the Back Creek, then a bear that looked like Downey, two that looked like Emmy and Baby Letterman,” wrote Tim in July 2003, in what is a typical enthusiastic entry from the amateur wildlife watcher.
Having forged a close trust with the deadly giant beasts – to the extreme where some even reportedly let him play with their cubs – and naming the ones he saw returning each summer, Treadwell’s inside access and manic energy sparked the 1999 Discovery Channel special Grizzly Diaries, which launched him from obscurity to national folklore.
Treadwell’s extreme sports persona and surfer dude speech won over even the bears and local foxes as he cooed over them affectionately. “Oh hi! Hiya! Oh he’s a big bear! He’s a surly bear!” he gushed as they loped up to him.
The animal lover’s antics led to a tour across America to educate school children about bears, along with appearances on The Late Show With David Letterman, Dateline NBC, and the publication of of the book Among Grizzlies: Living with Wild Bears in Alaska, with co-author and ex-girlfriend Jewel Palovak.
The pair also founded Grizzly People, a grassroots organization devoted to protecting bears and preserving their wilderness habitat, which still continues its mission to elevate the grizzly to the “kindred state of whales and dolphins.”
Despite his heart-felt intentions, Treadwell didn’t win any friends with the park rangers, who often cited him for violating safety rules such as not moving his camp every seven days, storing food in his tent and refusing to carry bear spray as a deterrent.
On the day that his loved ones always feared, Tim was visiting Katmai with his girlfriend and physician’s assistant Amie Huguenard and the couple camped near a salmon stream where hungry grizzlies hunted for food in the sparse fall weather to fatten up for winter.
Because it was late in the season, Tim had encountered bears he was not familiar with including one that he was unsure about that may have been his killer.
On October 6, Kodiak air taxi pilot, Willy Fulton, arrived at the camp to pick up the pair but instead discovered an abandoned camp and a lone bear. He alerted park rangers who found Tim and Amie’s mangled remains.
Treadwell’s disfigured head, partial spine, and right forearm and hand, with his wrist watch still on, were recovered a short distance from the camp, while his girlfriend was left next to the torn and collapsed tents, partially buried in a mound of twigs and dirt. A large male grizzly was shot dead after it was spotted guarding the camp, and human remains were found in its stomach.
A video camera found at the scene contained no visual footage but had audio recorded six minutes of agonizing screams as Tim was ravaged by a bear, while Huguenard attempted to fight it off. The tape culminated with the sounds of Treadwell being carried into the forest and Amie’s agony at being left alone to die.
Tim’s life work and his gory death were immortalized in Werner Herzog‘s 2005 documentary, Grizzly Man, which used footage from his personal video camera and much of his own words. Fortunately, the filmmaker saved viewers from the spine-chilling death screams, and the tape remains in the possession of Jewel Palovak in a safe deposit box.