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Huell Howser never 'wanted story to be about him,' assistant says

January 18, 2013 |  6:00 am

Huell Howser poppies
Public television star Huell Howser, who died early 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 last week at his home in Palm Springs.

“He always wanted to be seen as a storyteller,” said Ryan Morris, his assistant of seven years. “And never wanted the story to be about him.”

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 though 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 close 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 headshot as a dustpan.

“It allowed him to work as much as he could,” Morris said.

By the end of October 2012, Howser’s declining health kept him from coming into the Hollywood office and he had become increasingly more concerned about his legacy, Morris said.

By the end of November, Howser announced his retirement.

He ended up donating 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.

Stars from his previous shows are expected to attend. Howser also endowed an annual scholarship named after the show.

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-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: Huell Howser at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in 2005. Credit: AP Photo / KCET, Howser Production Company.

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