By JEREMIAH MARQUEZ Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Timothy Treadwell's death came just the way he had predicted. Treadwell and his girlfriend were mauled by a 1,000-pound grizzly bear last October in a remote section of Alaskan wilderness that Treadwell knew well after years of living among its bear population.
That Treadwell was killed doing what he loved did not surprise many of those who knew him. He had acknowledged his forays into the backcountry were tempting fate.
He had started an environmental group and received donations from celebrities such as actor Leonardo DiCaprio, in part by saying the bears he loved were in jeopardy. He spun colorful stories about his adventures for the Discovery Channel, David Letterman's late-night audience and the Walt Disney Co.
What few knew about Treadwell was that much of his life was an invention.
Interviews with associates and reviews of public records reveal Treadwell as a complex character - part wildlife enthusiast, part showman, part educator, part impostor.
The organization he said was dedicated to saving bears did find an outlet educating school children. But some experts said the bears he professed to be saving didn't need his protection.
His tales of being Australian or an English orphan, later rescuing himself from a life of drugs and alcohol through his fascination with bears, only made his story more compelling.
Only after his death did some friends learn that he was born under a different name as the middle-class son of a Long Island phone company foreman.
Charismatic in life, Treadwell had become an enigma in death.
Grizzlies, known as brown bears along the Alaskan coast, are more likely to attack people than the smaller black bear. More than 400 grizzly attacks on humans have been documented in Alaska since 1900, a fraction of them fatal, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's Alaska Science Center.
Treadwell refused to see the bears as "savage beasts." He spent nearly a dozen summers living among grizzlies, primarily in the Katmai National Park and Preserve on the Alaska Peninsula, videotaping many of his encounters.
Despite the concerns of wildlife authorities, Treadwell, 46, won national acclaim for his daring and devotion. He published a book, "Among Grizzlies: Living With Wild Bears in Alaska," in 1997, and more recently talked with filmmakers working on Disney's animated feature "Brother Bear" about bears.
Treadwell made regular visits to schools after returning to Southern California from his annual trips to Alaska.
"His passion for the bears and wildlife was just infectious, and the students loved his stories," said Phil Cott, principal of Webster Elementary School in Malibu, where Treadwell lived in a rented condo.
Not everyone embraced Treadwell's views.
Critics said Treadwell's forays into bear country could encourage copycats and worried the mauling death of Treadwell and his girlfriend, 37-year-old Amie Huguenard, would turn public opinion against them.
"Bears are bears, and the sooner we treat them as bears instead of humans in a bear suit it will be less dangerous," said Tom Smith, a biologist at the Alaska Science Center.
Stephen Stringham, a bear biologist and professor with the University of Alaska system, defended Treadwell's work. Treadwell, he said, kept meticulous diaries of bear genealogy, mating patterns and maternal behavior that will be valuable to researchers.
"The details he has, no one's got anything like it. It's extremely valuable to science," said Stringham, who had planned to collaborate on several papers with Treadwell.
During a middle-class upbringing on Long Island, Treadwell - born Timothy William Dexter - nurtured a passion for animals and the outdoors.
In high school, he was a swim team member and later earned a scholarship to Bradley University in Peoria, Ill.
In what his father, Valentine Dexter, called the start of a downward spiral, Tim injured his back while diving, lost his scholarship and dropped out in 1977.
Back home in Ronkonkoma, his troubles worsened: He crashed the family station wagon and was arrested on charges related to drunken driving.
"That led up to his leaving," said his father.
He moved to Long Beach in 1978, and soon began a personal transformation.
He legally changed his last name to Treadwell in 1987 after using it informally for years, Los Angeles County records show.
He also told friends of being Australian or of growing up a British orphan. People magazine in 1994 quoted him as claiming to be a native of Australia who moved to California as a teenager.
Supporters defended Treadwell's shifting persona, noting that in his book he said he was raised in New York.
Sunset Beach friends described Treadwell as a fun-loving eccentric, but he recalled his early years in Southern California as some of his darkest.
In his book, Treadwell wrote of an ongoing battle with alcoholism and drugs and carrying around a gun. He appears to have been in trouble with the law at least twice.
In 1984, a Timmy Treadwell was accused of illegally discharging a firearm, according to court records in Beverly Hills. Three years earlier, a Timothy Winthorpe Treadwell of Sunset Beach was booked on suspicion of assault, Orange County records show. Treadwell was living in Sunset Beach then and had used the middle name Winthorpe, those who knew him said.
Re-evaluating his life after a near-death experience from a drug overdose, he wrote, Treadwell decided to seek out bears in Alaska.
Treadwell's environmental crusade began slowly but quickly gained attention, propelled by his outsized personality.
He and friend Jewel Palovak started the bear-advocacy group Grizzly People in the mid-1990s.
To raise money, the group increasingly turned to the most obvious source of charitable giving in Southern California - celebrities. The list of Hollywood stars who either attended his fund-raisers or gave him money included DiCaprio, Bundchen and actor Pierce Brosnan.
Darlene Malott, who until recently was a representative for DiCaprio's foundation, said the actor met with Treadwell about three years ago after seeing him on Letterman's show. The foundation gave Grizzly People nearly $25,000, said Malott and DiCaprio's publicist, Ken Sunshine.
Bundchen met Treadwell at one of his events a year ago and contributed money, although she wasn't sure how much, said her manager, Anne Nelson.
Brosnan and his wife, Keely, also attended Treadwell's fund-raising events.
"We are deeply saddened by the loss of our friend and admired environmental warrior," Brosnan and his wife said in a statement to the AP.
Robert Towne, the screenwriter whose credits include "Chinatown" and "Mission: Impossible," said he and his wife wrote Treadwell a check he recalled was in the thousands of dollars.
"However eccentric he was ... I think his work should be valued and honored," Towne said.
Treadwell told Towne and other contributors he was terrified the bears would be killed by poachers without his presence.
A Grizzly People statement distributed to supporters last year said the bears "are attractive targets and without Treadwell's care would be easy to poach."
Some Alaskan wildlife experts discounted that, saying sporadic poaching isn't jeopardizing Alaska's grizzly population of 35,000. The animals aren't listed as an endangered species in Alaska.
Treadwell's supporters insist he videotaped poacher campsites and chased away hunters, adding he never claimed to protect all bears, just those in his area of Katmai.
"I don't think it's mischaracterizing," Palovak said.
Treadwell's approach helped Grizzly People average about $30,000 in annual contributions over the past several years, said Tisha Bedrosian of Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs, a nonprofit umbrella organization that funnels tax-deductible donations to Grizzly People.
Despite Grizzly People's written claim that it was a nonprofit, the organization is not registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a nonprofit, said Victor Omelczenko, an IRS spokesman. The group was, however, eligible to receive donations through its nonprofit sponsor.
Warren Queeney, an actor in Los Angeles and a friend of Treadwell's for 10 years, said Treadwell would have reveled in the attention his life and work have generated since his death.
Queeney only learned his friend was from Long Island when he met Treadwell's father at a memorial service, but he said he felt more amused than duped.
"He was a con artist, but boy, he pulled it off," Queeney said. "The man was truly a riddle wrapped in a sleeping bag. I don't know if any of us will ever know who he really was."
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.