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California’s Ambassador of Wonder Huell Howser Dies

 
By Karen Ocamb
News Editor
 
   


California TV icon Huell Howser died Sunday night, Jan. 6 of “natural causes” after a “long illness,” according to KCET, citing Ryan Morris, Howser’s producer and long-time friend. Howser was 67. (See SoCal Connected’s obit here).

For nearly two decades, Howser was a fixture on Southern California public television with shows such as California Gold in which his delight in exploring the simplest details of life made him the quintessential ambassador of wonder. “We operate on the premise that TV isn’t brain surgery. People’s stories are what it’s all about,” Howser said in a post on CalGold.com, the website of Huell Howser Productions, NBCLA noted. “If you have a good story, it doesn’t have to be overproduced. I want our stories to reveal the wonders of the human spirit and the richness of life in California, including its history, people, culture and natural wonders.”

I worked with Huell Howser briefly in 1982 during a summer vacation stint at what was then KNXT, the CBS News affiliate (now KCBS) in Los Angeles. A handsome Tennessee native with a Marine bearing, a quick smile and Southern drawl, he was a feature reporter for whom I wrote 10 second introductions for either anchor Jesse Marlow or Connie Chung to read. He was very nice and steady in a tumulus environment—he reminded me of a trimmer West Coast version of CBS News On the Road icon Charles Kuralt.

But I couldn’t shake the feeling that Huell was gay. Of course, one couldn’t be gay and have a career in television news in those days—so no one said anything. I certainly didn’t since my “gaydar” was often way off. After I officially moved to West Hollywood a year or so later, however, I chose to believe Huell was gay and had decided to stay in a glass closet so as not to detract from the story he was so excitedly sharing.

I could be wrong—perhaps he wasn’t gay or perhaps he was still so deeply Southern that he was ashamed to come out—hence all the references to him being a “very private” man who never married. I don’t know. But in this instance, in this time and place where so many of us celebrate being LGBT—I didn’t want to lose him to our history, this man who brought so much joy and wonder to so many people, this man who for so many years I had wished and believed to be of our tribe. May he rest in peace.

Here’s an obit from KNBC featuring an interview with openly gay KPCC radio Off Ramp host John Rabe about Huell Howser, followed by a music video of Howser singing “California, Here I Come” with students from the Musicians Institute.

 


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  1. Dennis Howard posted on 01/08/2013 06:20 PM
    When I volunteered at the LGBT Center, one of the male staff members told me he had been Huell's boyfriend for a while when he (the staff member) was younger. I must have looked either surprised or unbelieving because he dialed Huell's private phone number so I could hear Huell's folksy greeting on his message machine and held the phone to my ear. He then told me a few tidbits about why Huell had found him attractive and why he no longer appealed to Huell (he had aged and gained a lot of weight).
  2. Chuck Stewart posted on 01/09/2013 10:44 AM
    Thanks Karen for writing about Huell. I've known many people who work in the entertainment industry who all said Huell was gay. I have no direct proof but go by the rule that all people are gay until proven otherwise. Ha ha. This reminds me of your article in Update in 6/19/91 about Tommy Lasorda Jr. when he died. The family did not have the decency to share that their son was an out-gay man who died from AIDS. I have the same feeling here that Huell died from AIDS. It is how they word the obit that screams they are hiding something. I wish all people would honor their loved ones by being honest.
  3. David B posted on 01/09/2013 11:47 AM
    thank god for Karen Ocamb is all I can say and Huell will be missed by so many in the entertainment and media worlds of Los Angeles.
  4. Drake R. posted on 01/10/2013 02:43 AM
    It's great that you've reduced a profoundly honorable human being to a guy who "might be gay" and "maybe died of AIDS." You will die of stupidity and you're too far gone to see it.
  5. Mary Kate posted on 01/14/2013 06:03 AM
    I never even thought about Huell being gay until he did a segment in a gym and he was surrounded by all these very attractive younger women and he never even gave them a glance. I was like, "Whoa! I think Huell is gay!" It doesn't matter if he was or he wasn't in that we still loved him as a personality. I think the LBGT community would have liked to know in order to be able to claim him as one of their own. He would have been a good ambassador for the community.
  6. Mike posted on 01/24/2013 01:42 PM
    He was a huge Dolly Parton fan. What gay man doesn't love Dolly!
  7. Ira posted on 02/02/2013 07:34 PM
    Why should the discussion focus on which gender Huell preferred to have intercourse with?
    Who gives a rat's @$$ about that? Do you think he would want his legacy tainted by something so superficial? He was a talented and entertaining man who enriched the lives of ALL people. God Bless and rest in peace Huell.
    1. Mike posted on 10/06/2013 03:51 PM
      @Ira Thank You Ira.
  8. Rich V posted on 09/24/2013 06:07 AM
    Whether Gay or not, Huell Howser brought us delightful insight of California, a State he loved. I too, heard rumors that he had a younger companion. This can not be justified. I was there, when he filmed a tribute to Los Angeles' famous Subway Building, filming areas never before seen by the younger crowds. I was in Long Beach when he attempted to save the Long Beach Naval Station. He was a brilliant gentleman, and I do not believe he died of AIDS. I will accept he died of advanced Prostate Cancer.
  9. Jonathon Christopher posted on 11/08/2013 10:15 PM
    to say Huell Howser died of AIDS is ridiculous. He WAS gay but never thought to make an issue of it. His dedication was to history, the state of California and its people, perhaps at the expense of LGBT causes. Gay people should understand that not every homosexual celebrity should be forced to take the front lines in the fight for civil rights. We're a diverse community and I personally think the best way to prove our legitimacy is through good works. Activism is noble but only goes so far. Harvey Milk's mandate that every gay person should come out is idealistic but not always realistic.
  10. Jeff V. posted on 12/30/2013 12:28 AM
    Gay or straight, My biggest concern is to know weather Huell realized how much I, We, loved him for all his contributions to society. Did he realize how much he was appreciated and could he have known how important he was to be apart of our daily lives.
    I miss him so much and I would be relieved to know that he, in fact, realized how much he affected those whose lives he touched in such a very special positive way and how much he was appreciated. Thank You Huell Howser. I'm sorry I never got to meet you and express to my thanks for all you've done. I wish I could turn back the hand of time to tell you.
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