Banjo Man: 'Call of the Wildman' Star Neal James Dead at 55

Call of The Wildman star Neal James, better known as Banjo Man, has reportedly passed away.

The Animal Planet star was 55 years old when he passed away in his Kentucky home, according to a report by TMZ. The Washington County Coroner's Office said that he had been dealing with heart issues for several years. His death was attributed to natural causes, related to those ongoing health issues.

James was one of the big break-out stars of Call of the Wildman on Animal Planet. His authentic country look and his southern twang, combined with his banjo skills, made him a reality TV sensation. In addition, fans tuned in for his friendship with Ernie Brown Jr., also known as "The Turtleman." The two were a beloved pair for viewers.

Call of The Wildman aired on Animal Planet from 2011 to 2014. The series centered mainly around Brown's his nuisance animal removal business and was filmed mostly in their hometown of Lebanon, Kentucky. The series had four seasons and 72 episodes in total.

According to a report by Deadline Hollwood, James also worked at an addiction recovery center called the Isaiah House in Willisburg, Kentucky. James helped recovering addicts get their lives back there — a job that fans of the show will know suited his personality well.

From a business perspective, James was the secretary for Brown's affairs. He communicated with customers and other parties to set up removals and appointments with Brown. Brown's methods were unconventional, and at times seemed dangerous. He would relocate the animals he captured back into the wild, and take little payment for his trouble.

The show was a reality TV sensation, but it came with controversy as well. In 2014, Mother Jones published an extensive exposé on the series, providing evidence that crew members had obtained an opossum from a wildlife rescue and used it to fake an infestation for one episode. They also suggested that an infant raccoon had died in Brown's care, and several other harsh allegations.


"Our commitment to creative and innovative programming is matched only by our steadfast commitment to honesty and integrity in everything we do," responded Discovery Communications at the time, adding that all contractors were expected "to comply with similar ethical and legal standards."

Call of the Wildman was canceled later that year, and both James and Brown were absent from social media.