In his 89 years, Jim Fowler was knocked out by a chimpanzee, swarmed by sharks, and had his arm swallowed by a 22-foot-long anaconda. It was all in a day's work for the 6'6" legendary zoologist, who was suffering a heart ailment when he died Wednesday at his home in Rowayton, Conn., his son confirms to the Los Angeles Times. Fowler's legacy, at least in part, is a wealth of knowledge shared with millions of Americans as co-host of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom beginning in 1963 and as a guest on more than 100 episodes of the Tonight Show. Whether rescuing a puma from floodwaters or tracking polar bears, he "was trying to create some hope and interest in the next generation about what they can do to participate in preserving the natural world," fellow wildlife expert Peter Gros tells the Times.
Born in Albany, Ga., in 1930, Fowler grew up training birds of prey on a 680-acre farm he later converted to a wildlife preserve. A talented athlete, he also fielded offers from the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies, but ultimately decided to study zoology. Fowler eventually traveled to all seven continents, becoming the first man to trap a harpy eagle and bring it alive to the US, per the Hollywood Reporter. "I learned that if you're gonna fool around with [animals], you better know what the danger points are," Fowler told Connecticut Magazine in 2015, pointing out the little-known fact that anacondas will "wrap you tail-first." Fowler also served as wildlife correspondent for NBC's Today show and appeared in a 1997 episode of Seinfeld. He's survived by his wife, wildlife artist Betsey Burhans, two children, and two grandchildren. (Read more obituary stories.)