Steve Irwin's best friend, former producer opens up on rumoured rift with the Irwin family

Steve Irwin's former best friend and producer of The Crocodile Hunter has spoken out about a rumoured rift between him and the Irwin family.

John Stainton was the executive producer behind the hit Animal Planet wildlife documentary series that propelled Irwin to international fame in 1996. Stainton was counted as a close friend of the family for years and is largely credited with kickstarting Irwin's career. 

Stainton witnessed Irwin's death on September 4, 2006, when a serrated stingray barb pierced his heart during the filming of an underwater documentary in Queensland. 

He says despite his formerly close relationship with Irwin and his wife Terri, who co-hosted The Crocodile Hunter from 1996 to 2007, he grew distant from the family following Steve's death. 

John Stainton and Terri Irwin cry during Steve Irwin's memorial at Australia Zoo in September 2006.
John Stainton and Terri Irwin during Steve Irwin's memorial at Australia Zoo in September 2006. Photo credit: Getty

He claims he hasn't returned to the Irwin-owned Australia Zoo since 2009, when he put an end to his working relationship with the clan.

"It [was] just the end of an era," Stainton says in a new interview with the Daily Mail Australia.

"As the family were going to do their own thing, I was doing my thing. We were just on different paths." 

Stainton says he remained close to the family for a short while to help secure Bindi Irwin, Steve's now 21-year-old daughter, a career in television. He also played an integral role in the handling of the media storm following Steve's sudden death.

Rumours have circulated over the family's estrangements, including publicised rifts with Steve Irwin's 80-year-old father, Bob Irwin, and sister, Joy Muscillo. However, Stainton says there is "no animosity" in regards to his rumoured feud with the Irwins.

Terri Irwin with Bindi, Robert and Bob Irwin in 2007.
Terri Irwin with Bindi, Robert and Bob Irwin in 2007. Photo credit: Getty

"We parted company, we were going in different directions. That's the only thing there. My job with Steve was finished," he told the Daily Mail.

"People are good at rumours and gossip... I'm not interested."

Stainton congratulated Bindi and Robert, 15, on their respective endeavours, including Bindi's recent engagement to long-term partner Chandler Powell.

"I wish them continued success and Bindi a very happy new life," he told the outlet.

He also praised Terri, 55, for being an "incredibly good mum".