Jim Fowler, the wildlife expert and longtime host of nature series “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” died Wednesday at the age of 89.
A naturalist and zoologist who founded the Chehaw Park and Zoo in Albany, Georgia, Fowler was “never one to shy away from danger,” according to a tribute posted on the Wild Kingdom website.
He was a frequent guest on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” appearing in over 100 episodes, and also appeared in a a 1997 episode of “Seinfeld.”
But he was best known for his time with co-host Marlin Perkins “Wild Kingdom,” a wildlife documentary series that premiered on NBC in 1963. In 1971, it jumped to syndication, where it ran for until 1988. (Perkins, who had retired three years earlier, died that year of cancer.) Animal Planet later relaunched the series in 2005.
“We are sad that Uncle Jim died on May 8 at 2 a.m. in his own bed with his wife, our Aunt Betsey, beside him,” Fowler’s family said in a newsletter provided to the Albany Herald by Chehaw Park. “We are glad to have honored him on the farm just a month ago.”
Chehaw Park did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment, but tweeted a tribute. “Working closely with Jim Fowler over the years has truly been a privilege and we will miss him dearly. He has inspired millions to care about wildlife and the natural world. A pioneer in education and conservation, he was ahead of his time.”
In addition, Bronx Zoo director Jim Breheny also paid tribute. “We were saddened to learn of the death of our friend Jim Fowler,” he tweeted. “Growing up this kid from the Bronx and millions of others spent every Sunday night w/ him and Wild Kingdom. He was a force and role model in my career choice. As a kid I could not have imagined becoming his friend.”
We were saddened to learn of the death of our friend Jim Fowler. Growing up this kid from the Bronx & millions of others spent every Sunday night w/ him & @WildKingdom He was a force & role model in my career choice. As a kid I could not have imagined becoming his friend pic.twitter.com/HACfT0uE9e
— Jim Breheny (@JimBreheny) May 9, 2019
For the record: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported Fowler’s age at his death.