Die Young Stay Pretty

Oh, is he controversial! He likes to sleep with three females at a time, all of them clad in fur. (And this after a notorious separation from what was supposed to be his exclusive mate.) He’s been the subject not only of lawsuits but also full photo-spreads in Vanity Fair (by Annie Liebovitz, no less) and parody on the Colbert Report. Meanwhile, both his obsessive need to ingest things that are not good for him and to always be the center of attention have made most observers very concerned about his welfare.

And rightly so, for now he is dead, and way too young . . . what’s that? No, I was never talking about Charlie Sheen, this is about the celebrity that was Knut the Polar Bear, whose adventures at the Berlin Zoo this weblog has occasionally covered over the years. Maybe to make myself clear I should have brought up Knut’s being featured on his own postage-stamp, or even the public calls in the past for his castration, but frankly, all of that and more seems well within the capability of the out-of-control 2 1/2 Men once-and-future star.

No, this is about Knut, and I guess I can take a sort of bittersweet pride in having realized, from the very beginning of my coverage, that “it is perhaps the life of a child movie star that provides an even more-exact template to what has been happening with Knut.” You’ll surely know by now that last Saturday, as he was lounging on an island in his Berlin Zoo enclosure (which he shared with the aforementioned three female polar bears – who somehow seemed to want little to do with him) the lumbering grayish bear suddenly stood up, spun around a couple of times, fell into the water and was gone. Well, at least you probably heard that he died; those additional details I got from having the fortune to hear an interview on the BBC World Service with the Berlin Zoo Bear Dept. Head Heiner Klös. The interviewer put Klös on the spot (as BBC interviewers are increasingly wont to do with their subjects in recent years), accusing him of feeding Knut too many of the infamous croissants he was mad about. Yes, OK, there were croissants, Klös stammered in his reply, but mostly the keepers made sure he received the sort of wholesome meat-and-vegetables diet a still-growing young polar bear requires.

Anyway, while Knut was never in what you could call polar bear athletic shape, it’s unlikely it was anything in his diet that caused his death at age 4 – untimely, as polar bears in captivity are routinely known to live forty years or more. Just what it was remains something of a mystery; it was not a tumor, for example, as Christina Hucklenbroich of the FAZ let us know in an article of yesterday, although it did seem to involve some disease in his brain. Nothing in the environment provided to him at the Berlin Zoo was at fault, either – despite calls from no less than the Financial Times Deutschland for polar-bear enclosures across Europe to be subject to “stress tests.” (For real – although I suspect the piece is written tongue-in-cheek.) Nor did it have anything to do with any sort of in-breeding – Knut’s mother was a full-blooded wild polar bear out of Canada, Zoo Director Bernhard Blaszkiewitz assured the assembled press hordes.

Of course, it was that very same mother-bear who started Knut off on his celebrity adventure in the first place by rejecting him and thus making it necessary that he be raised in a rather more public fashion by the zookeepers. And although that life is now at an end, the legend (and, possibly, the need for further coverage here – whatever the traffic will bear, you might say) will surely live on. They want to raise a statue to him; his fur is already in the hands of expert taxidermists at a museum; and, inevitably, you know there is going to be a movie. For – relative to his species, at least – Knut lived fast and he died young: may I suggest “Polar Without A Cause”?

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