For 13 summers, Timothy Treadwell lived among grizzly bears in Alaska's Katmai National Park, endearing himself to animal lovers, angering tourists, and putting the animal's frightful reputation in doubt.
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Ursus arctos horibilis -- literally, "bear, brown, horrible" -- can weigh up to 1,000 pounds and possess up to five-inch claws. It is one of the most powerful mammals on Earth. But perhaps no human being spent as much time in proximity to them as Treadwell.
During that time, he got close enough to the animals to touch them. In the last five years of his time at Katmai, he also shot some of the most magnificent and intimate footage of the bears ever recorded.
However, in the early autumn of 2003, that adventure ended. Treadwell and his girlfriend were attacked by one or more of the creatures he loved so much. Both were killed.
Whether by accident or design, Treadwell's video camera was switched on during the attack, but the lens cap was still on the camera. The remaining audio record is terrifying, according to those who have heard it -- and almost everyone who has done so wishes they never had.
One of those people is Alaska coroner Dr. Franc Fallico. "It is an event that is indelibly imbedded in my mind, and will be the rest of my life," he said.
Treadwell was born 48 years ago, as Timothy Dexter, in a middle-class Long Island, N.Y., family. Those who knew him say he was an ordinary kid who loved animals.
In high school, he was a standout diver on the swim team and won a college scholarship. But in a documentary film about his life, his parents say his early success and confidence vanished soon after he got there.
"I think he started drinking out there and just hanging out with the wrong people," said his mother, Carol Dexter.
Dexter says her son went out to California when he was 19 or 20 to make a fresh start. He changed his last name to Treadwell, and tried to become an actor.
Val Dexter, his father, says he was told his son almost got a job on the TV show "Cheers," coming in second to Woody Harrelson. "How close to second I don't know, but that is what really destroyed him," he said.
Treadwell reached his 30th birthday still disappointed with his life. On a whim, he took a motorcycle trip to Alaska.
It was there he found religion, in the form of a grizzly bear, said Jewel Pavolak, a friend and former girlfriend.
In Alaska, Treadwell came across a number of bear beds, and for some reason, he decided to lay down in one, said Pavolak. A bear walked by him, and Treadwell did not move.
"The bear kind of walked all around him," she said. "And he claims that he looked into that bear's eyes, and it looked back at him, and nothing happened. He felt that he saw a kindred spirit. The man never had a drink again."
Celebrity in Isolation
By all accounts, Treadwell was a most unnatural naturalist. He appeared more suited to a surfboard than a backpack. But while he was neither trained as a biologist nor a photographer, his instincts were nearly always dead-on.
And that allowed him to stay so close to the bears for so long.
Each winter, Treadwell left Alaska, and turned his passion for experiencing the bears into a mission to educate the public about them. His lectures were free, but he raised money from sponsors who supported him and his foundation, Grizzly People.
The foundation became his work. Each spring, when the snow and ice began to melt, he'd migrate back to the Alaskan wilderness to re-establish his passion.
By the early '90s, the failed actor was becoming a media darling. First, he was in the show "Wild Things." Then there was a spread in People magazine.
Soon, he began attracting celebrities like Pierce Brosnan, advising Disney on its animated films and starring on the Discovery Channel's "Grizzly Diaries."
But fame in the lower 48, didn't always play so well in Alaska, where Treadwell's passions were seen as naïve and his antics considered dangerous.
"Treadwell was a capital F-O-O-L.," said local pilot Bill Woodin. "There's no other way to describe it, you don't put yourself in harm's way like this."
Descent Into Madness?
The location of Treadwell's campsite and the grizzlies' feeding grounds are at a deadly intersection. Yet, as each summer passed, Treadwell seemed only to grow more convinced of his invulnerability.
On one of his video tapes, he delivers a monologue about the bears: "I will protect them, I will die for them, but I will not die at their claws and paws. I will fight, I will be strong. I'll be one of them. I will be the master."
Perhaps it was all the isolation, or maybe some of those old dreams of becoming an actor, but over time, Treadwell's video camera became as much as a companion for him as a machine for recording his activities.
On camera, he complained of his romantic situation and expressed paranoia about tourists who he saw as threats to his bears.
In one of his videos, shot from a heavily-wooded vantage point, he's looking at group of picture-taking tourists. But it's clear from his narration that he interprets them as a deadly hunting party -- even though there has been almost no evidence of poaching in the area.
He even submitted the tape to the Park Service, even though he had grievances with the organization.
Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog combed through 150 hours of Treadwell's footage to make a documentary of his life called "Grizzly Man."
He believes Treadwell was being stalked by a kind of madness. "He's troubled, he's haunted by demons ... deeply disturbed," the filmmaker said.
Late in the summer of 2003 bush pilot Willie Fulton flew Amie Huguenard, Treadwell's new girlfriend, out to his remote campsite. On Oct. 6, 2003, Fulton returned as planned, and discovered a horror.
In Herzog's film, Fulton recounts landing, leaving his plane to find the couple, then coming across a "pretty nasty looking bear that I had seen here before is just sneaking slow with his head down, just the meanest looking thing, coming through the brush."
Fulton jumped back on his plane and took off. He flew over the camp, and looked down.
"Saw a human rib cage that I knew had to be either Tim or Amie laying there and he was just eating that."
He circled several times, trying to run the bear off with the airplane. "And every time I would come over, he'd just start eating faster and faster and crouch over this rib cage there," he said.
At the End, Resignation
Alaska state biologist Larry van Daele also heard the audio of the attack. No one knows exactly what happened, but along with coroner Fallico, they tried to use speculation and a little forensic science to tell the story.
"It sounded like the bear had him held down and was biting him at that time," said van Daele. Then, he said, "it sounds like he got quiet at that point and played dead, the bear backed off and later came back."
Fallico said, "Amie was shouting ... Timothy was moaning, growling, and trying to speak. And what he was saying was 'Run away!' ... He punctuated his statements with screams, and finally Amie, who previously had been telling him to lay down and play dead, suddenly Timothy responded."
Fallico said he heard Treadwell tell his girlfriend, "'Hit the bear with a frying pan' ... 'Whack the bear with a pan.' " He said, "I think I actually heard the pan impacting with the bear.
"Timothy clearly had changed his tune to one of defense, to one of resignation. 'I'm dying, get out of here.' That's what he told Amie, 'Get out of here! I'm dying!' " Fallico said.
"That's when I think Amie realized that the end was near, and the level of her screams, the intensity of the screams increased, and then the tape stopped."
Paradox in Death
Experts suspect the killer might have been "Bear 141," a grizzly who had been tagged years earlier by fish and game officers. Bear 141 was the bear that chased Fulton back to his plane, and he was more than 20 years old.
An older bear late in the season is a dangerous combination. "As the food sources start to dwindle, the bear will become less tolerant of each other, and less tolerant of people," said van Daele.
Ironically, the fame Treadwell sought while he was alive is even greater due to his death. Meanwhile, some of the very bears he sought to protect, have suffered.
In the hours immediately after the maulings, park rangers arrived to investigate. They were charged by two bears, including number 141, who they were forced to shoot and kill. A later examination revealed the partial remains of Treadwell and Huguenard.