Huell Howser—Historian of Us All

Hearing the news that Huell Howser passed away is a sad day for Angelenos.  His public TV programs, including Visiting and California’s Gold, spotlighted the best in people and places.

When I was a kid, Ralph Story was the TV historian of Los Angeles on Channel 2 News, providing stories of the region of things that I either knew nothing about or very little.  Then Huell Howser came long on the same station.

With a folksy, honest “good to meet ‘cha” attitude, Huell (Mr. Howser seems too formal) could go anywhere with a microphone and a camera and speak to strangers.  In fact, one of his shows was called “The Bench,” where he literally sat on a bench and spoke to anyone who walked by.

There is a lot of stuff to love about California. I’ve lived here all my life and haven’t seen even half of the sights it has to offer. Through Huell, I’ve vacationed vicariously, to the northernmost and southernmost points of the state, to all 21 California missions, to the lady who made art out of lint from her dryer, to the animal trainer saying a last goodbye to his old elephant friend.

And who could not relate to his love of food? From See’s Candy to Stan’s Donuts, he tasted and savored these delicious goodies for us all.

His wide-eyed reaction to all small and large things of marvel was a joy to watch. Even when some would make fun of his wholesome enthusiasm, it was done with much love and respect. In a way, we all wish we could be like Huell Howser and not so cynical and grumpy.

He made his work look so easy, meaning it really wasn’t.

I remember his reaction to the 1992 riots and how dejected he felt that regular folks would loot their neighborhood stores.

I remember him advocating for the protection of Los Angeles landmarks, fighting to save the Farmer’s Market.

He showcased our past as a way for us to remember that those of us living today have a legacy to leave behind.  He brought all kinds of people together like no politician ever could.

He is one of those famous people who while you may never have known him personally, you felt that you did know him. That’s why his death is like a death in one’s family. It is difficult to imagine life without him.

The only good that comes out of a death like this is that it serves as a reminder to all of us that life is fragile. None of us knows how many days we have to live. The cliché of living each day fully, as a gift, resonates strongly.

How ironic that the man who would end each “California’s Gold” introduction with the words “in search of California’s Gold” was as precious as the people and places he invited viewers to get to know.

In a time when ugliness permeates the airwaves, Huell brought us real stories about real people, mainly because he was a real person himself. Yes, we can still watch his programs, and, in that regard, his legacy lives on. Still, a piece of California’s gold has forever been lost.

It is up to us now to never forget Huell Howser.

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