The host of “California’s Gold” and other PBS-affiliated shows has died at his home near Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert after a long illness. His death was first reported late this morning by Gustavo Arellano at OC Weekly, an Orange County alt weekly. The LA Times has since posted news of his death on its website. Few details are yet available.
The transplanted Tennessean whose contagiously optimistic on-air persona and “That’s amazing!” catchphrase earned him a legion of loyal viewers, abruptly—and without fanfare—announced in November that he was retiring from television, amid rumors that he was in ill-health. He had recently donated his shows, and his desert home, to Chapman University in Orange County.
Public television station KCET in Los Angeles, which had been home base for Howser for years, issued this statement:
We are deeply saddened by the news of Huell's passing. 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. 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. We will miss him very much.
Intensely private, he once told an interviewer for Los Angeles magazine that if he had his druthers, he’d prefer to die on-air doing a job he genuinely loved:
"Seriously" he says, "what I want to do is to be saying 'Good night' and fall over dead in a sand dune and have the credits with the sand blowing over my body and the people at home just going, 'Well, I guess that's Huell's last show.' That is the way I would like to die."
Below, a rare scripted appearance by Howser, teaming with students at the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles to sing “California Here I Come.”