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Shock, followed by warm memories of KTLA’s much-beloved Sam Rubin

KTLA's Sam Rubin holds an Emmy.
Tributes, tales and memories flowed from throughout Los Angeles after the sudden death of entertainment journalist Sam Rubin, shown with his local Emmy in 2020.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Sunday, May 12. Happy Mother’s Day. I’m your host, Andrew J. Campa. Here’s what you need to know to start your weekend:

    Los Angeles mourns pioneer and friend Sam Rubin

    When the initial shock wore off, tributes, tales and memories flowed from throughout Los Angeles after the sudden death of an area icon, entertainment journalist Sam Rubin.

    The 64-year-old star of KTLA’s pioneering morning news program suffered a cardiac arrest at his West Valley home Friday morning. His family confirmed to KTLA that he had died of a heart attack.

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    Rubin was part of KTLA’s entertainment coverage for more than three decades and became a central figure in the growth of the quirky and fledgling “KTLA 5 Morning News.”

    Vision for a different type of morning news show

    The program was based on the premise that Angelenos would be more interested in watching local morning news than national shows like “Good Morning America.”

    Rubin and co. weren’t sure the concept would endure, however, noting in a 2011 interview with reporter Greg Braxton that ratings were so dismal for the newscast at first “that we were pretty sure we wouldn’t last more than a year.”

    He joined the show a few months after its premiere in July 1991 with a team that included anchors Carlos Amezcua and Barbara Beck, weatherman Mark Kriski, traffic reporter Jennifer York and reporter Eric Spillman.

    Amezcua, 70, described Rubin as “the connective tissue” that helped the team reach its intended audience.

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    “What can always be said about Sam is that he helped the ‘KTLA Morning News’ connect to Los Angeles as a native Angeleno who loved L.A. and knew the city better than anyone else on set,” Amezcua said. “We had L.A. in our call letters, and Sam always said that we knew L.A. and L.A. knew us.”

    What Hollywood is saying

    Many of his interviewees paid homage on social media.

    Director Ron Howard said Rubin “was always upbeat, gracious and fun to talk with on the air or off. His passing leaves a hole in the heart of the Hollywood community and industry.”

    Physician-turned-actor Ken Jeong said Rubin “supported my career and countless others since Day One.”

    Actress and anti-Scientologist advocate Leah Remini said Rubin was a “true gentleman” and a “comforting presence for so many Angelenos, always on our screens in good times and bad.”

    One last story

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    Westchester resident Dan Garr always considered himself a fan of Rubin, but didn’t enter his life until Feb. 10, 2016.

    That day, style expert Alison Deyette presented Rubin during the morning show with several gifts for his upcoming birthday, including a representation of Rubin during one of his most iconic moments.

    Deyette handed Rubin a six-inch 3-D printed model capturing the occasion earlier in the year when supermodel and actress Heidi Klum hand-fed a willing Rubin a doughnut for his birthday.

    Garr, chief creative officer of the toy research and product development company Hot Buttered Elves, was contracted by senior segment producer Leila Shalhoub to create the sculpture.

    Garr previously worked with KTLA’s Allie Mac Kay. He was honored to develop the piece and watch Rubin’s on-air reaction.

    “He had this look on his face after he received it; it was so Sam, it was so fun and I was just so happy,” said Garr, 59. “The humility he had and his ability to be himself and make everyone feel like you’re the most important person in the world is what made him special.”

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    Garr said Rubin was so moved by the gesture that the entertainment journalist gave him his personal phone number and they kept in touch. He also said Rubin told him he took the model home and admired it frequently.

    Garr heard the news of Rubin’s passing while listening to KNX’s tribute to retiring journalist Jennifer York, Rubin’s former colleague. “That just hit me really hard, you know,” he said. “It’s like losing a member of your own family.”

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    For your weekend

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    We sneaked more drinks into the theater and watched Paul Giamatti in “The Holdovers,” which made me cry. Chris held my hand. We stumbled into another movie — a private screening of a live production of “Titanic the Musical.” We didn’t want our night to end, so we went to Barney’s for a nightcap. Standing outside of our favorite bar, we shared our first kiss. It felt overdue.

    Have a great weekend, from the Essential California team

    Andrew J. Campa, reporter
    Carlos Lozano, news editor

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