Huell Howser, the folksy Tennessean-turned-Californian host of KCET's California's Gold has died. He was 67.
The public television figure died in his Palm Springs home early Monday morning of natural causes, according to the Riverside County Coroner's Office.
Howser announced his retirement from filming in November, according to a Nov. 28 Los Angeles Times article that said there was speculation among local television veterans that Howser was seriously ill at the time.
Howser was best known for his California's Gold show, which ran for 19 years on PBS stations, including KCET in Southern California. 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, but he had filmed a number of other shows focused on the state.
In 1989, Howser visited Sierra Madre to film the city's century-old wisteria vine for his show Videolog, which also aired on KCET and eventually lead into California's Gold. See the video here. He returned in 1992 to film it for California's Gold, according to a report by the Sierra Madre Chamber of Commerce.
He returned again in 2007 for the city's centennial celebration, where he was sworn in as mayor for the day (see video).
KCET president/CEO, Al Jerome, noted Howser's passing as a tremendous personal and professional loss to his friends, colleagues and 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," Jerome said in a statement.
Howser started his television career at 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.
The KCET show SoCal Connected plans to air special segment on Howser
at 5:30 p.m. tonight, then again at 10 p.m. As well, the station has added a "Remembering Huell" section to its website where viewers can leave thoughts about him.