When Stephen Irwin spoke to The Voice-Tribune nearly three years ago, the artist said he preferred to work in his Market Street studio surrounded by mixed-media pieces he’d already finished because they compelled him to experiment with new techniques and mediums, even if he wasn’t always pleased with the results. “In order to grow, you have to look at mistakes as opportunities,” Stephen enthused.
He also professed to finding inspiration on and around Market Street, where he lived for more than a quarter of a century. “It’s a rich, wonderful neighborhood,” he said during the interview. “I love Louisville so much.”
Clearly, the River City loved Stephen right back. And how could you not? He was one of those rare souls who had the ability to look you in the eye in such a way that in even the most fleeting of interactions made you know – really know – that you mattered.
Stephen died earlier this week, but the impact he has had on the community will continue to reverberate in myriad ways.
In the following space, Stacy Thomas, who celebrated her 36th birthday one day after learning of his death, shares the magic that was and will always be Stephen Irwin.
By Stacy Thomas
Special to The Voice-Tribune
“Birthdays remind us to celebrate life and to express our love to those we hold dear.”
I met Stephen Irwin exactly one week before my 19th birthday. I used a fake ID to tag along with some college friends for a night of dancing in a “dirty little hell-hole” my friends and I so lovingly referred to as Sparks. I will never forget the first time I saw him – red, coarse, cascading curls descending to his waistline; a tailored suit jacket; biker boots; and of course, a sarong. I had no idea whom or what I was about to encounter. I was uncomfortable, yet intrigued.
As I approached him, I was embraced by his gregarious laughter and his enigmatic energy. This was the start to what feels like a very short, 17-year friendship.
As I learned of Stephen’s death earlier this week, I was flooded with phone calls and messages. I began to realize that I am not alone in losing my best friend; there are many others who feel the same way.
An artist by ancient definition, Stephen could take the most ordinary things and make them brilliant. His artwork was as authentic and passionate as he was – he took pride in living an aesthetic life.
As a friend, he would always lend an ear or a shoulder. Stephen had a unique memory for strange details that always made you feel he was really listening. He had a knack for saying or doing inappropriate things; making you uncomfortable; yet he would instantly put you at ease when you stepped outside your box.
On Stephen’s 39th birthday, he told his party guests he was 40. When I corrected him, he scolded me by saying he never expected to live to see 40. I reminded him of this last year when I sat at the dinner table for his surprise 50th birthday party.
Throughout the years, Stephen and I would talk about death as an inevitable part of life. He was never afraid to die – living each day to the fullest – and ended each conversation with “big love” or “I love you.” Eventually, one of those conversations would be the last.
The last time I spoke to Stephen was a week ago. We always connect again after Christmas, usually around my birthday. He promised me years ago he would never leave this world without answering all of my questions. Going forward, I will always answer and speak from my heart, where Stephen Irwin will always live.
In honor of Stephen, take a moment today to connect with someone – friend or family – and tell them that you love them. This is my wish for today. Today is my 36th birthday.
Category: The Dish
About the Author (Author Profile)
Angie Fenton is Managing Editor of The Voice-Tribune, a Blue Equity company. She is also an entertainment correspondent for WHAS11′s new morning show, “Great Day Live!”, which debuted August 22 on Louisville’s ABC affiliate. Additionally, Angie is an entertainment correspondent for the Saturday Morning Show with Ron ‘n’ Mel Fisher on 84WHAS (840 AM) and has served in the same capacity for Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks; Breeders’ Cup; and Circuit of the Americas during the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix in November 2012. Angie also serves as an emcee, host, voiceover professional and on-camera commercial talent.
Angie has a bachelor’s and master’s in English from Central Michigan University and began her career as an adjunct professor at her alma mater. She is the youngest of five — four of whom were adopted, including Angie, and none of whom are biologically related. She is also a Michigan native who moved to Kentucky in June 2002. Angie is owned by two dogs — Herbie and Yoda — and feels lucky to have loved and been loved by many more, including Pooch, Jessie, Onyx, Jack and Big Bud, who took his last breath on Christmas Day 2012.