Longtime Southern California television host Huell Howser, who used his folksy interviewing style to introduce viewers to little-known Golden State locales and the state’s unique residents, died Tuesday at age 67.
Howser, a native Tennessean with twang to match, died in Palm Springs at 2:35 a.m. of natural causes, according to the Riverside County Coroner’s Office. Howser’s spokesman, Ryan Morris, told City News Service that Howser died at his home following a long illness.
Morris, who declined to give details on Howser’s illness, said there would be no public or private services.
“He was very against any sort of tribute or funeral,” Morris said, adding that Howser would joke, “We all have to die.”
He declined to list survivors, saying Howser’s family requested privacy.
Howser, who retired from KCET-TV Channel 28 in November, was best known for hosting the series “California’s Gold,” which ran for 19 years on Public Broadcasting Service stations.
“We are deeply saddened by the news of Huell’s passing,” according to a statement by KCET President/CEO Al Jerome. “This is a tremendous personal and professional loss to his friends and colleagues, as well as his legions of fans. Huell elevated the simple joys and undiscovered nuggets of living in our great state . . . . Huell was able to brilliantly capture the wonder in obscurity.
“From pastrami sandwiches and artwork woven from lint to the exoticism of cactus gardens and the splendor of Yosemite–he brought us the magic, the humor and poignancy of our region. We will miss him very much.”
Howser, often lampooned for his accent and wide-eyed wonder at roadside attractions, became so well known while hosting “California’s Gold” that his character was incorporated into two episodes of “The Simpsons.”
Howser started his television career at station WSM in Nashville after working for U.S. Sen. Howard Baker and serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. The University of Tennessee graduate whose unusual first name is a combination of his parents’–Harold and Jewell–became a well-known television personality in Nashville for his human interest stories.
He later hosted a magazine-style series at WCBS in New York City before moving to Los Angeles in 1981 to work for KCBS-TV. He later served a stint as a weekend “Entertainment Tonight” host (1982-83) and eventually joined KCET in 1985.
At KCET, he started “Videolog,” short programs featuring people’s unique stories. The series later became “California’s Gold.”
Howser quietly retired from “California’s Gold” late last year, amid rumors about his failing health. Morris told the Los Angeles Times in November that Howser was retiring from filming new shows, saying he “is just trying to get away from television and enjoy some free time.”
Morris told City News Service that Howser donated his work to Chapman University in Orange. He donated episodes of “California’s Gold” and all his other public television shows to Chapman in 2011 so they can be digitized, put on the Internet and “made available free to a worldwide online audience,” according to Chapman’s website.
Howser, who had lived in the El Royale Apartments in Los Angeles, also once owned an unusual Newberry Springs home known as “The Volcano House.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called Howser “a Los Angeles treasure and California icon.”
“Although he was originally from Tennessee, Huell loved California more than most natives,” Villaraigosa said. “His long-running television program, “California’s Gold,’ shared with audiences the best our state has to offer.
“Huell would travel anywhere to show viewers the beauty and variety of the Golden State, from its most famous landmarks to the least known sights. And his boundless enthusiasm and curiosity was infectious, making us all see these places with the same amazement he did,” Villaraigosa said. “His death is a loss that will be felt throughout Los Angeles and California. He will be greatly missed.”
City Councilman Tom LaBonge also hailed Howser, saying the state had “lost a great one.”
“Nobody comes near Huell in his love of people, his love of California, his love of a manhole cover, a street light, an art deco building,” according to LaBonge, who was sworn into office by Howser in 2001.
“… If he ran for governor, there would be never another election,” LaBonge added.