Southern Californians gathered to pay tribute to a local celebrity who died this month. Huell Howser hosted travel shows on public television in California. His down-to-earth reporting style drew fans of all races, classes and ages.
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In Southern California fans gathered yesterday to say goodbye to a regional icon, Huell Howser. He was a host of popular travel shows on PBS, focusing on the charms of his adopted state, California and gaining a huge following with a camcorder and an aw-shucks Southern drawl.
HUELL HOWSER: Well, hello everybody. I'm Huell Howser. And you know over the years, we have done literally thousands of stories about all kinds of subjects all over this state.
MONTAGNE: Howser died earlier this month of cancer.
NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji was at yesterday's memorial and has this story.
SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Hundreds braved L.A. traffic and unseasonably cold weather to say goodbye to a man who took them to places they never knew they wanted to go, and introduced them to people they never knew they wanted to meet.
CHARLES PHOENIX: His name was Huell Burnley Howser. Don't we love the name Burnley? We never knew. He never said, Hi, I'm Huell Burnley Howser.
MERAJI: That's L.A. pop culture historian Charles Phoenix, talking about the Tennessee native who thought every thing about California was...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Amazing.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Would you look at that?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Wow.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: That's amazing.
MERAJI: Impressions like those were rampant at yesterday's tribute. Because Huell Howser was known for finding the amazing in the ordinary, and he did it for over 30 years.
Meat market in east L.A.
HOWSER: Oh, boy.
MERAJI: Random state park in California nobody visits.
HOWSER: Oh, my gosh.
MERAJI: An Italian Grocery store with a massive soda pop selection.
MATT GROENING: Well, at first, you know, you think, oh this guy - he's an idiot. You know...
GROENING: ...he's so naive, he's amazed at everything. And then you realize, he's a genius
MERAJI: Matt Groening created "The Simpsons" and is a self-proclaimed...
GROENING: Friend of Huell Howser.
MERAJI: Groening said what was genius about Huell was his authenticity and he wrote him into the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "THE SIMPSONS")
HOWSER: (as himself) Hello, everybody. Welcome to "Under the Wrapper," where I, Huell Howser, apply the art of detection to your favorite confections.
GROENING: In this world of cynicism and pseudo-sophistication, a guy who's willing to be genuine is really refreshing. And everybody on "The Simpsons" writing staff - and I got to tell you, those are a bunch of cynical people...
GROENING: ...genuinely loved him.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG, "CALIFORNIA HERE I COME")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) California, here I come...
MERAJI: The hundreds of fans who genuinely loved Huell Howser finished yesterday's tribute singing along to his version of "California, Here I Come."
In California, a giant state with every language, culture, and sub-culture you can think of Howser was one of the few common denominators. And you could see that in yesterday's turn-out.
Maybe it's because he never complained about the traffic or the smog. He just reminded us every single day why this place is so awesome. Or as he would say: Amazing.
Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF A MUSIC, "CALIFORNIA HERE I COME")
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Wow. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.
(SOUNDBITE OF A MUSIC, "CALIFORNIA HERE I COME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.