Longtime Southern California television host 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, who retired from KCET 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."
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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. His assistant, Ryan 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."
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.