Wild Kingdom Host Jim Fowler, Who Made Over 100 Appearances on The Tonight Show, Dies at 89
Animal expert Jim Fowler died on Wednesday. He was 89.
Fowler, who was known for his appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson — he made over 100 — and his show Wild Kingdom, died at Connecticut according to Wild Kingdom‘s website.
In addition to his close friendship he shared with Johnny Carson and his scores of appearances on the host’s show, Fowler also made appearances on The Merv Griffin Show, The Mike Douglas Show and the Today show, where he served as the program’s wildlife correspondent.
While he studied zoology at Earlham College, Fowler also gained considerable attention for his skills on the baseball diamond as a star athlete.
In fact, the animal advocate turned down offers from both the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees to pursue his career and passion for wildlife, according to his website.
A naturalist, Fowler made a point throughout his career to educate the public about wildlife species and raise awareness about preserving environments.
“Fowler’s memory will remain through the work he did on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, as well as through the many parks, wildlife centers and nature preserves to which he lent his design and consultant expertise,” Wild Kingdom’s website’s statement about his passing reads. “But perhaps his most important legacy will be the role he played in inspiring the next generation of naturalists and wildlife experts.”
Fowler not only developed a friendship with Carson, the two even traveled together.
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“Johnny was a quiet, private man,” the late wildlife expert told Connecticut Magazine in 2015. “When he finally stopped doing the show, Betsey and I took him and his wife and their two sons to Africa. It was quite a trip. People don’t know this about Johnny, but he was a linguist. Before we left he spent a short time studying Swahili, then had conversations with the Maasai people.”
In addition to his 100-plus appearances on the Tonight Show, he also made an appearance on Seinfeld — after a little convincing from his son Mark.
“I got a call in 1997 from the producer of Seinfeld, asking me to come out to Los Angeles to be on an episode,” he added. “They only gave me a few days notice, and I didn’t want to go. I told my son Mark, and he said, ‘Dad, you gotta do Seinfeld! You’re so square, you gotta do it!’”
Since his passing, the director of the Bronx Zoo, Jim Breheny, paid tribute to the late animal expert on Twitter.
“We were saddened to learn of the death of our friend Jim Fowler,” Breheny wrote. “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.”
Fowler is survived by his wife Betsey and two children.