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R.I.P. Jim Fowler, 'Wild Kingdom' host, animal expert and talk show regular

Image: The Everett Collection

One of the more memorable final-season Seinfeld episodes revolves around Kramer digging the old set from The Merv Griffin Show out of the trash. He erects the funky, vintage set in his apartment and begins to stage his own talk show. He even books legitimate guests, including animal expert Jim Fowler.

"Where are the cameras?" Fowler asks Kramer. Then, the hawk that he has brought along attacks a squirrel that George is holding… and George. It's complicated, like most Seinfeld plots. 

The joke of that scene is that of course Kramer has booked Jim Fowler as a guest. Jim Fowler popped up on talk shows, bringing along exotic animals, for decades. The zoologist appeared several times on The Dick Cavett Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Tonight Show and Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

Fowler developed a great rapport with Johnny Carson and let his animal friends steal the spotlight. 

Raptors were his specialty. The Georgia native worked at a sanctuary in Florida before landing his big television break in early 1963. Fowler and fellow zoologist Marlin Perkins teamed up to host Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. The duo hosted the show until Perkins retired in 1985. The show lived on for a few years with Fowler as the lone host. When the pioneering nature series was revived in the 21st century, Fowler returned to Wild Kingdom.

Fowler would typically be the one on camera with the animals, while Perkins narrated and educated off-camera. It was an arrangement that Johnny Carson often joked about.

On May 8, Fowler passed away at his home in Connecticut. He was 89 years old.

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