Mark Shand — brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall — was a modern version of the eccentric, slightly bumbling British adventurer. And he came by it honestly.
He once walked and canoed across Indonesia for 12 days to get to a place where he could phone his mother. "And after all this enormous trouble," Shand told the Evening Standard in London in 2010, "I got through to the home number and said, 'Hi, Ma, it's me,' and she said, 'I can't talk to you now, I'm watching "Coronation Street."'"
But for all his humorous, self-effacing escapades — and his penchant for hanging out with models, artists and other celebrities — Shand was a respected travel writer and television host. And he used his fame and connections to further a cause to which he was devoted: protecting the endangered Asian elephant.
Shand, 62, died Wednesday in New York, where he had attended a charity auction that aided the foundation he created, Elephant Family. He suffered a head injury from a fall outside a hotel bar in the early morning hours, according to the Associated Press, and was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, where he died.
The police said Shand had gone outside the bar to smoke a cigarette and then fell when he tried to reenter through a revolving door.
His sister, Camilla Parker Bowles, and her husband, Prince Charles, issued a statement saying they were devastated by his loss. "Mark Shand was a man of extraordinary vitality, a tireless campaigner and conservationist whose incredible work through the Elephant Family and beyond remained his focus right up until his death," the statement said.
Shand started his foundation after taking a trip across India atop a rescued elephant named Tara — a tale he told in his 1991 book, "Travels on My Elephant." Asian elephants, which are a bit smaller than their African cousins, are revered as cultural and religious symbols in India. But their traditional feeding grounds have drastically shrunk and farmers have killed elephants who stormed their land to raid crops.
Shand didn't pin blame on the farmers. "This is not a story of good against evil," he said in a 2010 interview with the Daily Telegraph in London. "It is more complex. It is about poor people and an endangered species, each fighting for survival in a shrinking environment."
Mark Shand was born June 28, 1951. As a teenager, he was expelled from school for smoking marijuana and sent packing by his father to Australia. But the trip that was supposed to make him a more proper citizen was interrupted. "I stopped in India on the way and was supposed to stay for two days," he said in the Evening Standard interview. But his stay in the country he grew to love was "considerably longer."
Among his other books was "River Dog" (2002), an account of his precarious voyage down the Brahmaputra River.
In his social life he was romantically linked to several women, including Bianca Jagger and model Marie Helvin. He was not, by his own account, the most practical of people, and he sometimes faltered financially. But in the end he found meaning through his conservation work.
"If I was a businessman, I could have made a huge amount of money" because of his connections, he told the Evening Standard. "But none of that really crossed my mind while I was young and traveling. I don't regret any of it. In the end I'd rather be a whore for elephants than a whore for business."
In addition to his sister Camilla, Shand is survived by another sister, Annabel Elliot; and his daughter, Ayesha. His marriage to actress Clio Goldsmith ended in divorce.