Though already well known, it wasn't until he played himself in the 1973 movie American Graffiti that America saw the face that went with the voice. Many early listeners assumed he was black. "It took the Wolfman from a cult figure to the rank of American flag and apple pie," he once said of the movie.
After American Graffiti, he began doing various advertising campaigns and appeared in more than 40 network TV shows. He also had his own syndicated TV show, The Wolfman Jack Show. In the 1980s, the Wolfman became host of Rock 'n' Roll Palace on The Nashville Network, featuring performers such as the Shirelles, the Coasters, Del Shannon, Martha Reeves and the Crickets.
"It's real American music - what rock 'n' roll originally was before people turned it around and sideways and upside down. From 1958 to 1964, that's real rock 'n' roll. Then the Beatles hit and everyone sounded like them. They didn't give our boys long enough," the Wolfman said in a 1988 interview.
He also had played host on a weekly TV show called The Midnight Special for eight years, leaving in 1982. More recently, the Wolfman had been doing a weekly syndicated radio show for Liberty broadcasting from a Planet Hollywood restaurant in Washington, D.C. His last show, picked up by about 70 stations, was Friday night. "He had just done one of his best shows," Napier said. "He was feeling really good."
The portly Wolfman had recently lost 40 pounds through diet and exercise, Napier said. "But he still smoked his Camels. He was going to live the way he lived," he said. The Wolfman's name came from a trend of the '50's, when disc jockeys took nicknames such as Moondog or Hound Dog. He enjoyed horror movies, so he took the name Wolfman.
Todd Rundgren, the *Guess Who, Leon Russell and Freddie King all wrote songs about him.
He credited his voice for his success. "It's kept meat and potatoes on the table for years for Wolfman and Wolfwoman. A couple of shots of whiskey helps it. I've got that nice raspy sound."
Wolfman Jack, the rock 'n' roll disc jockey whose gravelly voice and wolf howls made him one of the nation's most recognizable personalities, died July 1, 1995 of a heart attack. He was 57. The Wolfman collapsed shortly after returning home earlier in the day, said Lonnie Napier, vice president of Wolfman Jack Entertainment. He had just completed a 20-day trip to promote his new book "Have Mercy, The Confession of the Original Party Animal," about his early career and parties with celebrities.
"He walked up the driveway, went in to hug his wife and then just fell over," said Napier from the Wolfman's home, about 120 miles east of Raleigh. Born Robert Smith in Brooklyn, the Wolfman came to prominence in the early 1960s on XERF-AM, playing the latest rock 'n' roll on a Mexican station that broadcast at 250,000 watts, five times the power allowed on any U.S. station at the time. His howls and yips, and the blues and hillbilly records he spun blanketed much of the United States all night long. In between cuts, he would hawk plastic figurines of Jesus, coffins, and inspirational literature, and exhort his listeners to "get yo'self nekkid."
On July 1st, 1995, Wolfman Jack, had just returned home from a book promotion tour when he collapsed at his home in Belvidere, North Carolina and died of a heart attack. The Wolfman was 57...according to the calendar...but probably still 17 if you had asked him.
Robert Smith was the real name behind what became one of the most famous radio personalities in the history of broadcasting. But, if he had stayed Robert Smith, chances are we might have never known him at all. True to the magic which radio offers, Smith was able to reach within himself and pull out the Wolfman. And, once he did, the Wolfman never wanted to go back inside.
As Robert Smith faded away...the Wolfman came to the forefront and howled and laughed, answered phones and played old vinyl 45 rpm records,made appearances and signed autographs, met with record promoters and met with kids. During the early years when Top 40 Radio was the lifeline and anthem for teenagers, The Wolfman made a special mark on American Society and on Radio.
If we remember anything about the man who once was Robert Smith and who later was kissed by Radio and turned into a froggy-throated prince named the Wolfman, it should be this: Dare to be different and dare to follow your instincts. There are NO standards of entertainment you MUST follow. But, DO follow your guts. Be willing to step out from the crowd. Don't always look before you leap. Forget convention. It's better to ask forgiveness than permission. Don't just stand there...Make something happen.
I never met the Wolfman..but I knew him all the same. I guess that's the mark of a great Radio Personality. Somehow, I don't think he'd mind too much if I called him my friend. So, if you get a chance, think a good thought for my friend - just a guy from Brooklyn who howled at the U.S. from a Mexican station named XERF-AM and made a little bit of history by having a lot of fun and just being a disc- jockey. See ya, Wolf.