PALM SPRINGS – Longtime Southern California television host and Palm Springs resident Huell Howser, who used his folksy interviewing style to introduce viewers to little-known Golden State locales and the state’s unique residents, died today 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 in November, was best known for hosting the series ”California’s Gold,” which ran for 19 years on PBS stations, including KCET in Southern California.
”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 attended many events in the Coachella Valley, according to The Desert Sun, and his website listed 34 shows filmed in the Palm Springs area.
Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet said the city was ”incredibly saddened” by Howser’s death, calling him a ”tremendous journalist and one of our city’s No. 1 cheerleaders.”
”On behalf of our citizens, I want to thank him for all he did to support the spectacular Palm Springs destination through his in-depth and colorful reports,” Pougnet said. ”We will miss him terribly.”
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 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.”
The KCET show ”SoCal Connected” plans to air special segment on Howser at 5:30 p.m. tonight, then again at 10 p.m.