Song Sung Blue

A self-described friend of bears meets an untimely and ironic demise.

And here I thought “Shark Expert” Dr. Erich Ritter took the cake.

Remember him? Last year in the Bahamas, according to his website, “Dr. Ritter was developing a body-language system to build a bridge to sharks….to interact safely among them…to show there really is nothing to worry about, because sharks are not mindless monsters.”

While neck-deep in this noble project (literally, and with Discovery Channel’s cameras rolling) a bull shark rushed in, chomped down and interacted with the good doctor’s leg big-time. It ripped it half off, and Ritter went into shock from blood loss.

Well, last month the AP brought us an update on “Bear Expert” Timothy Treadwell, the toast of glitterati on both coasts, a favored guest of Letterman and Rosie, a Discovery Channel regular, a friend and soulmate of Leo DiCaprio.

“Common sense will tell you that this man knows infinitely more about grizzly bears than anyone.” That’s Hollywood screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown), also active in Treadwell’s animal-rightist group named Grizzly People.

Treadwell is big on “interacting” with animals too. But he cuddles with Alaska’s grizzly bears, indeed he serenades them.

“I want to be unconditional love and kindness to them,” he sighed to a mesmerized Letterman. “I want to live with them and go with them and not carry something that will hurt them. I mastered a way of interacting with them with body language that enables me to be in extremely close contact with them.

“Grizzly bears are really just big party animals. I discovered that singing soothes these bears.”

Last month, Treadwell was interacting with grizzlies in Alaska’s Katmai National Park with his cameras and lovesongs. But apparently these bears had had it up to here with salmon, OK! Fish tidbits for breakfast, for lunch and AGAIN for dinner! Enough already!

These bears are 1,200-pound monstrosities. Their teeth and claws weren’t meant for hors d’oeuvres, much less caressing, and no amount of Mariah Carey and Barry White, or even Luther Vandross and Peabo Bryson, will change that.

When the bush pilot dropped in to pick up Treadwell and his girlfriend from their remote campsite, he found a party animal indeed — a dinner party animal! A huge brown bear was sitting atop some mangled human bodies and still munching away. Apparently he’d put his predatory equipment to work big-time, stalking, rushing in, then eating both Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, right down to their Birkenstock hiking boots and Ying-Yang pendants.

The pilot skedaddled and called the park rangers, who got there posthaste and heavily armed. No sooner had they reached the gruesome mess when a huge bear charged from the brush. None of that rising up on the hind legs bit. None of that growling bit.

That’s for bluff. And like Hemingway tells us in Death in The Afternoon, “an animal bluffs in order to avoid combat.” This brute meant business. He was mum, his beady eyes focused on another meal and his legs pumping furiously.

Amazingly, the bug-eyed rangers refrained from crooning Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross’s Endless Love. Call them pathetic yahoos, you Grizzly People, but no Karen Carpenter or even Celine Dion passed through their heads.

Their magnums did the singing: BLAM!-BLAM! Twelve ear-splitting notes later, the charging bear finally crumpled and skidded to a stop.

Still shaking and with parched mouths, the rangers paced the distance to the bleeding behemoth, and it came to 12 feet.

“That was cutting it close,” one gasped.

The bear’s autopsy showed most of Timothy Treadwell in its stomach.

Minutes later, the rangers noticed another bear stalking them through the brush. Call them hopeless yokels, you Grizzly People, but nary a line from either Roberta Flack, Carole King or even Enya came to mind. Both Minnie Riperton and Barry Manilow were ignored completely. If any lyrics entered their minds, they were from Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive!

The magnums sang again. The rangers opened up with everything they had. Remember the original Predator? Remember when Aw-nold and his men hear that little noise in the brush and open up with their arsenal, bush-hogging that section of jungle to a putting green with about five zillion bullets?

It probably sounded like that. These rangers knew these bears respond to only one song: Born To Be Wild.

Turns out, Treadwell had a mike turned on during the attack. The rangers found it and have provided excerpts.

“They’re killing me out here!” he screams to his girlfriend.

Olivia Newton John’s I Honestly Love You must have fallen on deaf ears. Elton John had apparently proved ineffective. Both Can You Feel The Love Tonight and Your Song went unheeded.

“Hit him with something!” he screamed to his girlfriend. (With what, Treadwell? You yourself stressed, “We do not carry anything that can hurt them.”) “Hit him with the frying pan!” he screams next.

They say the tapes are pretty garbled. Too much growling and moaning. Hard to tell what issues from the bear and what issues from its victims.

Now for the Treadwell “whodunit?” Was it Cupcake or Freckles? Booble or Aunt Melissa? Perhaps adorable little Taffy?

Treadwell named the bears, you see, much like Jane Goodall named her chimps. Perhaps Quincy was the culprit?

“Quincy, do you remember when you stood over me?” That’s Treadwell interacting with a massive bear on one of his videos. “You were so hungry, and you should have eaten me, but you didn’t. Thanks for not eating me, Quincy. But if you had eaten me, good, ‘cause you’re a nice bear!”

They say Treadwell was a recovering dope fiend and serious lush.

“I will stop drinking for you and all bears. I will stop and devote my life to you,” he coos on one of his videos. “Bears are so much better than people. I’m their lifeguard. I’m there to keep the poachers and sport hunters away. In fact, I’m much more likely to be killed by an angry sport hunter than a bear.”

Treadwell should have stayed on the booze. Somehow I can’t imagine Ozzy Osbourne or Keith Richards in his role. His friends should have done “an intervention” to get him back on booze. Happened to a buddy of mine. He became one of those “recovering” types — an insufferable butthead, in other words. No one could stand to be around him. Finally his own family and friends convinced him to start boozing again. He’s fine now.

Malibu’s Grizzly People might gape at Treadwell’s fate. No grizzly hunter would. The ancients had better sense.

“There can be no covenant between lions and men,” wrote Homer. And once again Jose Ortega y Gasset shines a light: “The real care that man must exercise is in not pretending to make the beast equal to him,” he writes in his Meditations On Hunting. “This is a stupid utopia, a beatific farce. Hunting, on the other hand, contains a rite where homage is paid to what is transcendent in the laws of nature.”

And don’t you just love Timothy Treadwell’s champions over at the Discovery Channel? Those producers crack me up. Occupational schizophrenia, let’s call it.

They know damn well why we’re watching. We’re hoping to see somebody ripped limb from limb. Yes, we’re still the same species who crammed the Roman Coliseum to suffocation.

We’re hoping the shark will finally SMASH his snout through the cage, grab the greenie-yuppie and shake him like a terrier with a rat.

We’re hoping that crocodile finally chomps down on that giddy little Aussie’s head and pops it like a cantaloupe.

We’re hoping the entire pride of lions rush that photo safari vehicle en masse and make off with the occupants like so many squealing wart hogs. We’re hoping that elephant grabs the cameraman with its trunk and tenderizes him against the nearest Baobab tree trunk.

That’s why they always play up the strength of these animals, the danger they present as we “ooooh!” and “aaaahh!”

“Follow Timothy Treadwell as he keeps a yearly appointment with North America’s most-feared predator — the grizzly bear!” says the Discovery blurb on Treadwell’s “Grizzly Diaries” video. “Armed with only a video camera, he roams the Alaskan wilderness living in close contact with the magnificent animals. Watch, amazed, as he comes face to face with a 1,000-pound bear!”

But those are serious greenies at Discovery Channel too, right? So they have to somehow offset this danger to man with the much bigger danger they face from man, with us “encroaching on their dwindling habitat” with us “exaggerating the danger they present”…blah..blah..blah.

You’re tempted to laugh at this tragedy. It’s a powerful lure — almost a suction. The pair were Malibu, Calif., residents, caricatures of the species — New-Agists, animal-rightists, vegetarians… complete yo-yos.

But the killings strike me as sad and pathetic. That poor girl he brought along — did she know what she was getting into? This guy had relatives and so did she. Their grief is real — what a stupid waste.

Don’t get me wrong, greenies can be quite vicious themselves, let me tell you. A particularly sanctimonious (hence, vicious) breed dominates scuba circles nowadays. Many bought my book, The Helldiver’s Rodeo, somehow mistaking it for the typical contemporary dive book. They opened it expecting the usual drivel about petting the peaceful manatees, photographing the cute little angelfish and blennies, “interacting” with dolphins, etc.

Well, they were in for some serious shock and awe – and apparently, rage. Their e-mails, “I hope those sharks get y’all next time!” Their calls to radio shows, “We’re better off without divers like y’all! You stupid yahoos! Hope you get the bends! You guys figure in next year’s Darwin awards!” blah blah..blah.

As usual, these “haters of my book” seem familiar with details right down to the last page. Their salutations still flood in. And sure makes for fun reading. But what else can I do but thank them for buying my book? These people are customers. I doubt they’ll be back. But what kind of businessman insults even one-time customers?