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R.I.P. Knut: Remembering the famous Berlin Zoo polar bear's life in photos

March 21, 2011 |  7:46 pm

Knut the polar bear

Knut, the polar bear whose famously cute visage landed him a Vanity Fair cover and earned him legions of fans back when he was a cub in 2006 and 2007, died over the weekend of unknown causes. The celebrity bear, who was 4, died in his outdoor enclosure at the Berlin Zoo.

Zoo staffers are anxious to determine the cause of Knut's early death, considered extremely unusual for a species that can live up to 20 years in the wild and even longer in captivity. Knut had not appeared sick before his death and he was visible to 600 or 700 people gathered around the zoo's polar bear enclosure at the time of his death on Saturday.

Although it's hard to believe this beloved bear -- frozen in so many fans' memories as an energetic, full-of-life cub -- is gone, we had to smile when looking back over some of his earliest photos. Beginning in early 2007, not long after his birth, they showcase his first months in the spotlight and the special relationship he shared with his late keeper, Thomas Doerflein, who died in 2008.

We've assembled some of our favorite photos of Knut, ranging from his first year all the way to his fourth birthday last December, concluding with images of the makeshift memorial that sprang up at the Berlin Zoo over the weekend as Knut's many fans arrived to pay their respects. (For fans who live a long way from Berlin, the zoo has also set up an online memorial book for Knut.)

Above, Knut is shown at 2 months of age on Feb. 11, 2007. See more photos after the jump! (Photo credit: Peter Griesback / European Pressphoto Agency)

Knut the polar bear Knut the polar bear

Above left, Knut does the waving move that came to be a signature gesture for him during his public debut on March 23, 2007, when he was 3 months old. Above right, Knut at about six weeks of age in January 2007. (Above left: Herbert Knosowski / Associated Press; above right: Reuters.)

Knut the polar bear

Baby Knut could make anything into a toy. He's shown here at the Berlin Zoo on March 2, 2007. (Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

On March 23, 2007, a 3-month-old Knut lays next to keeper Doerflein during the cub's first public appearance at the Berlin Zoo. (Wolfgang Kumm / European Pressphoto Agency)

Knut the polar bear

Knut plays with a blanket in a series of photos taken on March 23, 2007. (Associated Press)

Knut the polar bear

Knut is reflected in the water of his outdoor enclosure on March 23, 2007. (Tobias Schwarz / Reuters)

Knut the polar bear

Knut sticks close to Doerflein during his first public appearance. (Herbert Knosowski / Associated Press)

Knut the polar bear

Knut plays outside at the Berlin Zoo in a series of photos from March 2007. (Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters)

Knut the polar bear

Knut faces the camera on March 23, 2007. (Hannibal Hanschke / Reuters)

Knut the polar bear

Knut sits on Doerflein's lap in his enclosure at the Berlin Zoo. (Hannibal Hanschke / Reuters)

Knut the polar bear Knut the polar bear

Knut walks toward the camera, left, and drinks water, right, during his first public appearance. (Left photo: Markus Schreiber / Associated Press; right photo: Michael Sohn / Associated Press)

Knut the polar bear

Zoo visitors clamor to get a good view of Knut on March 24, 2007, just one day after he debuted to the public at the Berlin Zoo. (Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters)

Knut the polar bear

Knut plays with a boot in his enclosure on March 30, 2007. (John MacDougall / AFP/Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

Knut explores his enclosure on April 3, 2007. (Andreas Rentz / Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

Knut plays at the Berlin Zoo on April 3, 2007. (Barbara Sax / AFP/Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

Doerflein plays with 6-month-old Knut on June 22, 2007. (Sean Gallup / Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear Knut the polar bear

Knut during a celebration of his first birthday on Dec. 5, 2007. (Both photos: John MacDougall / AFP/Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

A reproduction of a special stamp honoring Knut in 2008. (Gero Breloer / European Pressphoto Agency)

knut's 2nd birthday

Knut celebrates his second birthday with treats in 2008. (Michael Gottschalk / AFP/Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

Knut plays in the pool in his enclosure in July 2009. (David Gannon / AFP/Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

Knut relaxes in his enclosure in October 2009. (Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters)

Dirty Knut

Knut after rolling in dirt in September 2009. (Maya Hitij / Associated Press)

Knut the polar bear Knut the polar bear

At left, Knut receives special treats to mark his third birthday in December 2009. At right, he is shown enjoying the cold weather in Berlin earlier the same year. (Left photo: Tim Brakemeier / European Pressphoto Agency; right photo: Johannes Eisele / Reuters)

Knut the polar bear

Knut rests in the snow on Dec. 30, 2009. (Patrick Pleul / European Pressphoto Agency)

Knut the polar bear

Knut shows his tongue on Dec. 30, 2009. (Patrick Pleul / European Pressphoto Agency)

Knut the polar bear

Knut rolls in the snow on Jan. 8, 2010. (John MacDougall / AFP/Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

Knut plays with a branch on March 4, 2010. (Sean Gallup / Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

Knut walks through his enclosure on June 17, 2010. (Barbara Sax / AFP/Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

Three-and-a-half-year-old Knut in June 2010. (Barbara Sax / AFP/Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

Knut goes for a swim in October 2010. (Odd Anderson / AFP/Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

Knut interacts with a 6-year-old zoo visitor and her toy, a plush Knut replica, through the glass surrounding his enclosure in October 2010. (Odd Anderson / AFP/Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

Knut celebrates his fourth birthday by eating a "cake" made of ice and fish on Dec. 5, 2010. (Michael Sohn / Associated Press)

Knut the polar bear

Knut yawns on Dec. 10, 2010. (Johannes Eisele / AFP/Getty Images)

Knut the polar bear

Knut rests in the snow in his enclosure on Dec. 10, 2010. (Johannes Eisele / AFP/Getty Images)

A makeshift memorial at the Berlin Zoo for Knut the polar bear

Children stand next to flowers placed at the main entrance of the Berlin Zoo on Sunday, a day after Knut's death. (Tobias Schwarz / Reuters)

A makeshift memorial at the Berlin Zoo for Knut the polar bear

Flowers and a message to Knut and his late keeper near the famous bear's enclosure on Sunday. (Andreas Rentz / Getty Images)

A makeshift memorial at the Berlin Zoo for Knut the polar bear

Flowers, mementos and notes from fans are shown near Knut's enclosure on Sunday. Well-wishers flocked to the Berlin Zoo to pay tribute to Knut. (Tobias Schwarz / Reuters)

A makeshift memorial at the Berlin Zoo for Knut the polar bear

A child touches an item left for Knut at the Berlin Zoo on Sunday. (Andreas Rentz / Getty Images)

A makeshift memorial at the Berlin Zoo for Knut the polar bear

Flowers, stuffed polar bears and other items were left by many visitors to the Berlin Zoo following news of Knut's death on Saturday. (Andreas Rentz / Getty Images)

A makeshift memorial at the Berlin Zoo for Knut the polar bear

Visitors look at tributes next to the polar bear enclosure at the Berlin Zoo. (Tobias Schwarz / Reuters)

A makeshift memorial at the Berlin Zoo for Knut the polar bear

Roses and a picture of Knut at the entrance to the zoo. (Johannes Eisele / AFP/Getty Images)

A makeshift memorial at the Berlin Zoo for Knut the polar bear

A drawing of Knut is placed next to flowers at the zoo on Monday. (Tobias Schwarz / Reuters)

A makeshift memorial at the Berlin Zoo for Knut the polar bear

Stuffed bears, candles and flowers at the entrance to the zoo. (Markus Schreiber / Associated Press)

MORE ABOUT KNUT'S LIFE:
Knut the polar bear meets his future roommate, gets slapped (2009)
Knut, beloved polar bear, has a run-in with a fan (2008)

-- Lindsay Barnett

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