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Thousands mourn 'Crocodile Hunter'

Story Highlights

• 5,000 attend 'Crocodile Hunter' memorial service
• Daughter Bindi remembers Steve Irwin as 'my hero'
• PM Howard says Irwin touched hearts of millions
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BEERWAH, Australia (CNN) -- "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin was remembered Wednesday by his eight-year-old daughter Bindi as "my hero" and a man working to change the world and help save endangered wildlife.

"My daddy taught me so many things," she told 5,000 people attending a public memorial service for the much-loved conservationist and television personality at the family's Australia Zoo at Beerwah in Queensland state.

"I will miss him every day," she said, adding that her father wanted people "to learn to love all the animals." (Watch Bindi's tribute: "My daddy was my hero" -- 0:18)

Irwin, 44, died on September 4 when the barb from a stingray pierced his chest while he was filming for a television show on the Great Barrier Reef, off the northeast coast of Australia.

His family held a private funeral service for him on September 9 at the zoo.

Irwin's father Bob urged the audience not to grieve for his son, but rather to grieve for the animals, who had lost "the best friend they ever had." (Watch Russell Crowe, Irwin's father and others remember their friend -- 1:59)

Australian country singer John Williamson sang his trademark "True Blue" song that Irwin loved.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who opened the memorial service, said Irwin touched not just the hearts of Australians, but those of millions of people around the world in a very special way.

"He did that because he had that quality of being genuine, of being authentic, of being unconditional and having a great zest for life.

"Throughout his all-too-short life he demonstrated a love for the two things that ought to matter more to all of us than anything else -- his love of his family and his love of his country."

There was one empty seat at Irwin's Crocoseum -- the one set aside for the "Crocodile Hunter" himself.

Dressed in khaki, Irwin's widow, American-born Terri, daughter Bindi and son Bob, 2, made their first public appearance since Irwin's death.

Video tributes

Actors Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Hugh Jackman, Cameron Diaz and singer Justin Timberlake sent video tributes, as did CNN's Larry King. There were funny out-takes from Irwin's many television shows, a poem from actor David Wenham and a video skit Irwin made with the hugely popular children's group The Wiggles, who were represented by Anthony Field.

"We have lost a friend, a champion," Crowe said in his recorded tribute. "It will take some time to adjust to that."

Costner lauded him as "fearless" man who was brave enough to let people see him as he was.

"America just flipped for him," said Diaz. "Every kid was in love with the idea of being him."

Other speakers noted the research work Irwin was doing, not only with crocodiles, but with other endangered species.

The one-hour service, held in bright sunshine, finished with Irwin's crew loading his truck with his crocodile hunting gear and driving off, to the tune once again of "True Blue."

Dozens of television satellite transmission trucks were parked outside the zoo, which has been owned by the Irwin family since 1970.

Three of Australia's main television networks carried the service, which was made available to U.S. and international networks. Giant television screens were set up in Irwin's home state of Queensland for people to watch.

Irwin's death set off an unprecedented outpouring of grief, The Associated Press reported. Tens of thousands traveled to the zoo near Brisbane to drop off flowers and other mementoes, many of them signing Irwin-styled khaki shirts instead of a condolence book.

Since Irwin's death, his conservation charity Wildlife Warriors has seen a surge in donations and its Web site has received millions of hits, AP reported.

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.


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Steve Irwin's daughter, Bindi, speaks at the memorial service for her father.

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