Huell Howser, 67, one of public television’s most iconic figures, died Sunday night, his assistant Ryan Morris said. No other details were given.
His platform was traditional and unflashy — highlighting familiar and off-the-beaten-track spots all around California in public television series with titles such as “California’s Gold,” “Visiting,” “Road Trip” and “Downtown.”
But though his shows were focused on points and people of interest, it was Howser who turned into the main attraction, tackling his subjects with an awestruck curiosity and relentless enthusiasm. His upbeat boosterism accompanied an appearance that was simultaneously off-kilter and yet somehow cool, with a hint of retro — a thick, square mane of white hair, sunglasses, shirts that showed off a drill sergeant’s build and huge biceps, and expressions that ranged from pleasantness to jaw-dropping wonder with some of his discoveries. Often, he wore shorts.
Topping it all off was a molasses-smooth Tennessee twang which gave an irresistibly folksy flavor to his frequent exclamations of “Oh my gosh!” and “Isn’t that amazing?” The voice and the aw-shucks demeanor were also catnip for comedians who delighted in imitating his tone — he was once parodied on “The Simpsons” and he was a favorite target of comedian Adam Corolla on his radio shows and podcasts. But he also proved to be a savvy businessman through his deals with broadcasters and sales of his shows on DVD.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of Huell’s passing. This is a tremendous personal and professional loss to his friends and colleagues as well as his legions of fans,” said Al Jerome, president and chief executive of KCET. “Throughout his more than two decades with KCET, Huell inspired everyone at the station with his enthusiasm and storytelling about this great state in which we live.
“Huell was able to brilliantly capture the wonder in obscurity. From pastrami sandwiches and scarves loomed 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’s death came only weeks after the announcement Nov. 27 that he was retiring and not filming any more original episodes of “California’s Gold.”