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Huell Howser relished role of storyteller

The public TV host kept his illness private because he 'never wanted the story to be about him,' his assistant said. Chapman University will unveil a collection of Howser's show archives and artwork Feb. 8.

January 19, 2013|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • Mary Cardona holds a photo of Huell Howser as she and hundreds gathered Tuesday to celebrate and remember the life of the television host at Griffith Observatory.
Mary Cardona holds a photo of Huell Howser as she and hundreds gathered Tuesday… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)

Public television star Huell Howser, who died this month of prostate cancer, did not talk openly about his illness because "he never wanted the story to be about him," his assistant said.

The host of the TV series "California's Gold," which focused on unique and commonplace locales around the state, died Jan. 7 at his home in Palm Springs.

"He was dedicated to doing his job even when he was sick," said Ryan Morris, his assistant of seven years.

Howser had ambitious plans last year for the show that he ended up having to cancel, Morris said. One of those stories would have been on the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, which was booked and canceled several times over the summer because of his illness.

"That was one of the most difficult moments for Huell emotionally," Morris said Thursday. "Huell always wanted to do that story."

Morris said that although Howser never spoke to him specifically about the cancer, he would sometimes have long conversations about mortality and getting older.

After he became sick and was limited to covering stories closer to home, Morris said, Howser picked up a new habit of sweeping the sidewalks of Selma Avenue around his Hollywood office with a straw broom. He used his head shot as a dustpan.

"Huell always had to stay busy," Morris said. "He had a hard time sitting down. By brooming up and down the sidewalk, it was his way of giving back."

By the end of October last year, Howser's declining health kept him from coming into the Hollywood office, and he had become increasingly concerned about his legacy, Morris said.

By the end of November, Howser announced his retirement.

He donated his massive found-art collection, which included pieces of engines and a piece of the old Hollywood sign, to Chapman University in Orange. In addition, he collected memorabilia from his shows over the years.

The school will unveil the Huell Howser's "California's Gold" collection, which includes archives of his shows, during an open house event Feb. 8, said Mary Platt, a university spokeswoman.

The subjects of his shows are expected to attend. Howser also endowed an annual scholarship named after the show.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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