Dream Turns Deadly

ByABC News
August 11, 2005, 6:54 PM

Aug. 14, 2006 -- 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.