Jim Fowler, who with his friend Marlin Perkins co-hosted “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” died Wednesday, according to the official website for the show.
He was 89 and died at his home in Connecticut.
The website paid tribute to his decades of onscreen exploits that included feats like “hanging out of a helicopter, bluffing a herd of elephants or wrestling an anaconda.”
He and Perkins won four Emmys for “outstanding program achievement” in 1966, 1967, 1969 and 1970.
Besides his role on “Wild Kingdom,” Fowler logged more than 100 appearances on “The Tonight Show,” first with Johnny Carson and then Jay Leno. He also made appearances on “Late Night” with Conan O’Brien, the website said.
He gave up up baseball to pursue his love of nature
Born in Georgia in April 1930, he was a standout athlete at Earlham College in Virginia. But the zoology major found more inspiration in the classroom and turned down offers from the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees to play pro baseball.
In the late 1950’s Fowler was working at a raptor sanctuary in Florida when Perkins came down to shoot an episode of “Zoo Parade,” a show he was hosting at the time. But Fowler resisted the pull to go into television, according to a 2001 interview with the Weekly Wire.
He wanted to pursue a graduate degree instead. For his research, Fowler embarked on a trip to the Amazon for a study of the harpy eagle, the world’s largest bird of prey. He became the first man to capture one and bring it back to the United States, the Wild Kingdom website said.
When Fowler was invited onto the “Today” show to display the eagles in 1961, Perkins was watching. And he was impressed.
He asked him to work on the pilot of “Wild Kingdom” with him.
Fowler’s co-hosting gig on the NBC show launched on January 6, 1963, and for more than two decades he traveled the world, sharing his love of exotic animals with viewers.
Perkins died in 1986 and Fowler took over sole hosting duties until the show’s last episode aired in 1987.
He was a naturalist icon
Fowler also served as an animal correspondent for “Today” and his TV appearances included a 1997 cameo on “Seinfeld.”
He reprised his role as a host and field zoologist when “Wild Kingdom” rebooted in the 2000s, IMDB says.
The “Wild Kingdom” site paid tribute to the man who helped raise a wider consciousness about the importance of protecting the environment. Fowler’s message was to make nature personal:
“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 is survived by his wife, Betsey Fowler, and two children, Mark and Carrie.
CNN’s Hollie Silverman contributed to this report.