If there's anyone who truly lived their dream to the fullest, it's got to be Steve Irwin.

If there's anyone who truly lived their dream to the fullest, it's got to be Steve Irwin (1962 - 2006), the Crocodile Hunter.

Born 22 February 1962 to a wildlife expert father and a wildlife rehabilitator mother, Irwin grew up around crocs in his family's Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park. At 6, he had a 12-foot python as a pet, and by 9 he was handling – and wrestling – crocodiles. Is it any surprise, then, that on his honeymoon, he and his new bride Terri Raines Irwin skipped the romantic week in Paris or Hawaii in favor of trapping crocodiles?

Much of Irwin's life was spent with the reptiles that so fascinated him – and his delight with crocodiles was contagious. It's hard not to smile when you watch him enthusiastically stalking the behemoth.

Even an injury is, in his mind, not a very big deal – just another learning experience, and a chance to marvel at the speed and strength of the croc.

Irwin loved his crocs – and other dangerous creatures – and he got to spend his life studying them, working with them, and teaching the world about their wonders. His exuberant charm also helped drive home his message of conservation.

When Irwin died 4 September 2006 after a stingray barb punctured his chest, some wagged their fingers at his dangerous career. And while it's true that Irwin died as a result of the thing he loved… he also died doing the thing he loved. Though he died much too young, only 44 years old, he died as he lived – while following his dream, and having a great time doing it.

Ten years after Steve Irwin's death, a touching letter from the Crocodile Hunter to his parents was discovered.

Irwin's father, Bob Irwin, who is writing a memoir of his time with his son, found the unopened letter as it fell out of a book. When he opened it, he discovered a handwritten note – more than two decades old – expressing heartfelt thanks for love and support.

The letter begins: "Dear Dad & Mum, Probably one of the most unfortunate things in a bloke’s life is that it takes over 30 years to realise how essential you have been to build my character, my ethics and, most importantly, my 'HAPPINESS.' At 32 I am finally starting to figure it out ..."

Irwin closed the letter, "You're my best friends!"

Read the full letter here

See photos of Steve and his family