Jim Fowler, wildlife expert and co-host of “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” died Wednesday at the age of 89, according to the show’s website.
Fowler passed away from a heart ailment at his home in Rowayton, Connecticut, his son, Mark Fowler, told The Washington Post.
As a student at Earlham College in Indiana, Jim Fowler was a standout baseball player, CNN reported. However, upon graduating he decided to follow his passion for zoology, turning down offers from the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees to play pro baseball.
Fowler co-hosted “Wild Kingdom” beginning in 1963, and brought exotic wildlife into American living rooms for more than two decades.
Some of his memorable on-screen exploits included "hanging out of a helicopter, bluffing a herd of elephants or wrestling an anaconda," according to the "Wild Kingdom" website. The show’s co-host, Marlin Perkins, often watched from a Jeep or narrated from the studio as Fowler ventured closer to wildlife, according to The Post.
After Perkins’ death in 1986, Fowler was the sole host of the show until its last episode aired in 1987. He reprised his hosting role when "Wild Kingdom" was rebooted from 2007 to 2010, according to his Internet Movie Database page.
Fowler was known for his many talk show appearances. He appeared more than 100 times on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," always alongside an animal guest, the "Wild Kingdom" website said. He continued his appearances on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," and appeared several times on "Late Night with Conan O’Brien."
Through the years, Fowler was a consultant to “many parks, wildlife centers and nature preserves,” according to the "Wild Kingdom" website.
No matter his project, Fowler’s message and mission remained the same. He is quoted on the "Wild Kingdom" website as saying:
“What we have to do is ask ourselves, ‘What’s in it for me?’ Only then will we realize that the continued existence of wildlife and wilderness is ultimately important to the quality of life of humans,” he said.
He is survived by his wife, Betsey Fowler, and two children, Mark and Carrie, CNN reported.