Every summer for the last 13 years, Timothy Treadwell fled Malibu, Calif., for the wilds of Alaska, where he lived among dozens of grizzly bears. He photographed the bears, slept near them and crawled into their dens when they were off fishing for salmon.
In the words of one friend, "he became feral."
On Monday, Treadwell, 46, and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, 37, both of Malibu, were found dead in the remote Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, the victims of a bear mauling, according to the National Park Service and Alaska State Troopers.
A bush pilot from Andrew Airways, who arrived to pick Treadwell up on Monday, found the remains.
The couple's two tents had collapsed, but were untorn, and there was no evidence they had been dragged from the tents, said Joe Fowler, chief ranger and acting superintendent of Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Jewel Palovak, program director of Grizzly People, an educational project about the bears, was the last person from outside the park to talk to Treadwell before he was killed.
Treadwell called Palovak with his satellite phone at noon on Sunday and gushed about having seen his favorite bear, a fat female named Downey. "He wanted to make sure she was safe," Palovak said.
Treadwell, whom Palovak likened to Dr. Doolittle, had written a popular book about his adventures and had talked about them on David Letterman's late night television show.
He had been in Alaska since June, shooting photos and videos of bears. Treadwell and Huguenard were supposed to arrive in Los Angeles on Tuesday night.
An adult male bear and a juvenile male were shot and killed by park rangers and state troopers when the bears charged officials recovering the remains of the victims.
"He died doing what he loved," Palovak said. "If he had to pick a way to do it, it would be that way. He always knew they were wild animals and he accepted them on those terms."
She said Treadwell - who was always unarmed - had never wanted others to do what he did. "He recognized that he had a special gift or was lucky. A lot of people said he shouldn't do what he was doing or it was crazy. But he proved them wrong for a long, long time," Palovak said.
Park service officials said they had long feared that Treadwell would be killed by a bear.
"We all had grave concerns about what Timothy Treadwell was doing," Fowler said.
Tom Smith, a research ecologist with the Alaska Science Center of the U.S. Geological Service, visited Katmai several years ago and watched Treadwell interact with bears.
"He was breaking every park rule that there was, in terms of distance to the bears, harassing wildlife and interfering with natural processes," Smith said Tuesday. "Right off the bat, his personal mission was at odds with the park service. He had been warned repeatedly. It's a tragic thing, but it's not unpredictable."
Yet the park service had cited him only once, for improperly storing his food, Fowler said. He said that the park hadn't had the authority to remove Treadwell from the area and that Treadwell had been on good terms with back-country rangers who checked up on him throughout the summer.
The circumstances of the deaths were still being investigated, Fowler said. Treadwell and Huguenard had been camping in the park, about 100 miles from the nearest town, since July. Their campsite was near an unnamed stream where dozens of bears congregate each fall to feast on salmon.
Treadwell was well-known in Southern California, where he often lectured to schoolchildren. His 1999 book about his adventures, "Among Grizzlies," reached the Los Angeles Times' best-seller list and he had appeared on "Dateline NBC."
In the late 1980s, he rode his motorcycle to Alaska. His favorite stamping ground became Katmai, a nearly roadless area encompassing 4 million acres along the southwestern Alaska coast.
Treadwell was not a scientist, nor did he try to pass himself off as one. He was interested in bear behavior and protecting them from the poachers who he said raided the park looking for trophy animals.