“Banjo Man” Neal James, of Animal Planet fame, has died in Springfield, Kentucky at the age of 55. James’ cause of death is related to his heart condition. James was featured on the show, “The Call of the Wildman.” The show aired for four seasons between 2011 and 2014.
James was a native of Stanford, Kentucky, and lived there all of his life. The town is around 40 miles south of Lexington.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. James Was Known as a Friend of ‘The Turtleman’ Ernie Brown Jr. on ‘The Call of the Wildman’
On the show, James was best known for being the friend of “The Turtleman” Ernie Brown Jr. The showed prompted an investigation from the United States Department of Agriculture over Brown’s animal wrangling tactics.
A Mother Jones feature openly accused the show’s producers of staging events that harmed animals. Animal rights organization PETA had called for a USDA investigation into the practices that were portrayed on the show.
2. James Worked With People Who Were Battling Addiction
James was known for his activity with the Isaiah House in Willisburg, helping people who were battling addiction problems.”
3. James Had Been ‘In-&-Out’ of the Hospital Leading Up to His Death
Speaking to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Washington County Coroner Len Benedict said that in the time leading up to his death, James had been in-and-out of the hospital with issues relating to his heart. The newspaper also reports that James’ funeral is being organized by Spurlin Funeral Home in Stanford. In a YouTube video uploaded shortly before his death, James said that he had “seen the other side” following a heart attack.
4. James Said What Attracted Him to the Banjo Was Because You ‘Can’t Make Sad Music on it’
In a 2012 interview, James was asked what appealed to him about the banjo, he replied, “You can’t make sad music on a banjo, and in Turtleman’s outfit, there ain’t nothing about sadness. It’s all happy. It’s meant to make you happy. I can probably make good music sound bad, but you cant make a sad song on a banjo. It just don’t work. You can maybe make it sound haunting or something like that, but definitely not sad. It gives you a charge! It makes you think and feel a little better just listening to a banjo.”
James said in a 2017 interview with the Lincoln County Interior Journal that it was during a Pentecostal church service when he heard “a little old sainted lady” playing the instrument. After that, James said, “That’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
5. James Is Survived by His Wife, Rosemary
James is survived by his wife, Rosemary Pearson James. In 2013, James wrote on Facebook that his wife was having spinal surgery. More recently, Rosemary was behind a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for James’ medical issues.