Huell Howser, Host of 'California's Gold,' Dies at 67

Huell Howser Coachella - P 2012
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Huell Howser Coachella - P 2012

The veteran TV personality died Sunday of natural causes, according to his longtime station KCET Los Angeles.

Huell Howser, the popular, folksy host of California's Gold and other TV travelogues, died Sunday night of natural causes, his longtime television home KCET said Monday. He was 67.

Ryan Morris, Howser's assistant, had told The Los Angeles Times in November that the host was "retiring from filming new shows."

A veteran broadcaster beloved his unpretentious, enthusiastic interview style, Howser joined then-PBS outlet KCET in 1987. He produced numerous shows about his travels throughout the state, including Road Trip, California’s Golden Parks, Downtown and Visiting … With Huell Howser. His Tennessee accent and homespun manner made Howser a PBS favorite for a quarter-century.

"We are deeply saddened by the news of Huell's passing," KCET's statement reads. "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."

Born on Oct. 18, 1945, in Gallatin, Tenn., Howser graduated with a history degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After a stint in the Marines -- where he served on the staff of Sen. Howard Baker, R-Tenn., a future Senate Majority Leader -- Howser began his broadcasting career doing human-interest stories for WSM-TV Nashville.

After a stint on To Life, a daily magazine show on WCBS-TV New York, he moved to Los Angeles in 1981 for a reporter job at KNXT-TV (later KCBS). From 1982-83, he served as a correspondent on Entertainment Tonight and in 1985 joined KCET, where he would spend the rest of his career. (KCET was a PBS affiliate from its founding in 1970 until Dec. 31, 2010.)

His distinctive broad, upbeat and unflappable style as interviewer and host -- “Oh my gosh!” and “Isn’t that amazing!” were a frequent exclamations -- endeared him to fans and made him a target for lampooning. He was parodied in a recent Funny or Die! video titled “California’s Lost Gold” and on longtime L.A. native Matt Groening’s The Simpsons. (He voiced himself in the 2009 episode’s "O Brother, Where Bart Thou?”) But his down-home, hand-on-your-shoulder style also made folks who weren’t used to being interviewed more comfortable in front of the camera, which added to his charm.

In addition to his numerous KCET programs, the white-haired muscle-bound Howser voiced The Backson in a post-credits scene of Disney’s 2011 feature Winnie the Pooh, played himself in a 2008 episode of Showtime’s Weeds and appeared as himself in the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?