Huell Howser, folksy enthusiast for all manner of local gems in the Golden State and long the host of travel show “California’s Gold,” died of natural causes in Palm Springs early Monday morning. He was 67.
Howser’s retirement was announced on Nov. 27.
“California’s Gold” was produced at KCET in Los Angeles for PBS stations throughout the state.
Describing Howser’s unique talent, Variety once said he has “a gift for probing the emotional truths of people’s lives and gently coaxing them into the television screen.”
In a statement, KCET president and chief exectuive Al Jerome said, “Huell elevated the simple joys and undiscovered nuggets of living in our great state. He made the magnificence and power of nature seem accessible by bringing it into our living rooms. Most importantly, he reminded us to find the magic and wonderment in our lives every day. 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.”
Though Howser was famously not a native of California — his accent immediately gave away his Tennessee origins — he embraced his adopted state; he became famous for his awestruck declaration “Amaaaazing!” in response to new discoveries on “California’s Gold.”
He had become such an institution in the Los Angeles area that he earned an appearance as himself on “The Simpsons” in 2009.
Howser’s other efforts at KCET included the series “Visiting With Huell Howser,” “Road Trip With Huell Howser,” “California’s Golden Parks,” “California’s Green,” “California’s Water” and, most recently, “Downtown.”
Born in Gallatin, Tenn., Huell Burnley Howser earned a B.A. in history from the U. of Tennessee, Knoxville. He served in the Marines and on the staff of Sen. Howard Baker before beginning his television career at a Nashville station. After a stint in New York, he moved to Los Angeles in 1981 and became a reporter at KCBS and then a weekend host on “Entertainment Tonight.”
Howser went to work for KCET in 1987, and “California’s Gold” premiered in 1991.
A digital archive of Howser’s work was established at Chapman U. It can be accessed at HuellHowserArchives.com; visitors to the site can view all of his TV shows free of charge.