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Huell Howser, a fine example of California Gold, passed away
January 7, 2013 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Huell Howser, best known as the host of California Gold, passed away today. He was 67. I hope he's up there swimming in the Neptune pool. (previously)
posted by kendrak (77 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gonna make my kids watch the donut episode tonight (again). Thanks Huell. You will be missed!
posted by Brocktoon at 1:56 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now that I no longer live in California and I reminisce about the time I spent there it is his voice I hear inside my head. This is a sad day.
posted by phytage at 1:57 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was really hoping his retirement news wasn't leading to this, so I was saddened to hear this just now.

I have so many good memories of California based on watching his shows over the years and visiting so many of the same places, RIP Huell you were the best.
posted by mathowie at 2:00 PM on January 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


I remember watching him as a kid in Nashville, with his big brown seventies glasses. He was also Sir Cecil Creepe, wasn't he? Our Creature Feature host for the late night scary movies . . .
posted by jfwlucy at 2:02 PM on January 7, 2013


RIP to a true California Legend (and institution)

I shall fondly remember him walking the polo fields at Coachella.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:02 PM on January 7, 2013


mathowie: "I was really hoping his retirement news wasn't leading to this, so I was saddened to hear this just now. "

Same here.

Big gold dot for you Huell, you'll be missed:

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posted by Big_B at 2:02 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh no!
posted by professor plum with a rope at 2:03 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I imagine the guy finding the body saying, "Well, isn't that something!"

I'll miss the cornball.
posted by klangklangston at 2:04 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


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posted by notyou at 2:05 PM on January 7, 2013


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posted by doctor_negative at 2:07 PM on January 7, 2013


Corrections: It's California's Gold not California Gold, and reports are saying that he died last night, not today.

/Huell on
Well let's not quibble over little stuff, what's that you've got in that bowl over there? That's Amazing!
/Huell off

posted by Big_B at 2:08 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I moved to Los Angeles in 1996, I fought the place tooth and nail. It was so vastly different in numerous ways from my native New England that all I could see was what I thought was missing. Huell Howser was so good at finding those little historical and/or quirky pockets that are everywhere in L.A., and putting a human face on them. He was so excited about everything, no matter how small or mundane. I had a good friend while living there who was also a fan... we'd often follow Huell's trail and visit local diners and other holes in the wall that we first learned about on his show. I eventually learned to appreciate SoCal on its own terms, and he definitely had something to do with that.

He always seemed like such a warm and genuine person, and my friend and I always kind of hoped we'd bump into him somewhere in our own explorations... but we never did. Like everyone else I hoped his retirement wasn't leading to this, but deep down I couldn't imagine what else could keep such an enthusiastic personality away from doing what he really loved to do.

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posted by usonian at 2:09 PM on January 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


His ability to ambush strangers and get something interesting out of the interaction is impressive. And higly watchable. I love the quote from the NBC obit about his "magnificently unslick" interview style.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:10 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some old friends and I always thought that one of the most interesting interviewer/interviewee pairings would be Charlie Rose interviewing Huell Howser. We predicted that it would turn into Huell actually interviewing Charlie for the hour, and I would have really loved to see that.

I didn't often watch California's Gold, but somehow anytime I did I always wondered why I didn't watch it more often. Huell had an enthusiasm that was truly infectious in an era when shameless enthusiasm is considered a bit gauche.

RIP, Huell.
posted by chimaera at 2:13 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Are random youtube clips the only way to find his shows? I kind of wish one of the many travel channels on my extended HD package would just loop all his shows in a row 24/7 so I could pop in whenever I wanted.
posted by mathowie at 2:15 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think full episodes are available through iTunes, but don't hold me to it.
posted by kendrak at 2:21 PM on January 7, 2013


The news made me genuinely sad, and then a friend opined that he was probably up in heaven walking around with a microphone: "Will you look at all these angels? And is this a harp you have here? This is truly remarkable! Will you show me how you play your harp?" and that made me a little happier.

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posted by queensissy at 2:27 PM on January 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


Full episodes can be viewed at Chapman University.

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A sad day for the Golden State. He was always entertaining and educational.
posted by mogget at 2:31 PM on January 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Comedian James Adomian does an amazing impression of HH on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast and elsewhere. He's an acquaintance of mine and I asked him at one point about how he even got started doing him (his impression is based off the idea that Huell always thinks he's in California, and thinks the most banal things are amazing) and he said something along the lines of "Well I look a bit like him, but really I just love his show. He's obviously the most positive person I've ever seen."

Jesse Thorn has a nice appreciation on Put This On as well.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:32 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I learned about this via email from Richard Halsey of the California Chaparral Institute, the interviewee of Howser's chaparral episode. I wonder if there's any way a group of his interview subjects could contribute to a joint tribute... though I'm sure they'll all find their own ways to honor his memory.
posted by Creosote at 2:36 PM on January 7, 2013


From the LA Times obituary:
Howser was aware that his ever-present cheerfulness was an eyebrow-raiser: "Sometimes, people say, 'Are you putting that on?'" he said in 2009. "That's kind of a sad commentary, don't you think? Like there's got to be something wrong with someone who's enthusiastic and happy like that. Do I have bad days? Yes. Do I get depressed? Yes. Am I concerned about the state of the California economy and budget? I'm not some Pollyanna who doesn't recognize that there's hunger and poverty and racism in the world."
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:40 PM on January 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


Huell Howser is someone I feel comfortable describing as a national (or at least local) treasure without feeling like I'm being hyperbolic. In the best way, he almost reminded me of Mr. Rogers for adults, in that his unbridled enthusiasm and childlike sense of wonder with barely a hint of cynicism was a breath of fresh air in a world filled with ironic detachment. I was ridiculously addicted to his shows, "California's Gold", "Visiting..." and "Road Trip", in particular.

Huell, I raise my glass of Broguiere's Eggnog to you.
posted by The Gooch at 2:41 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Even though it includes just a small selection of his programs, KCET's map of some of the places Huell has visited and then made shows about is pretty overwhelming.

Also, KCET, Huell's home station, has posted a brief "Remembering Huell" statement soliciting viewers to comment with their favorite Huell Howser memory that's attracted a fair number of comments already.
posted by RichardP at 2:42 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


My brother and I spent many an hour during long road trips doing impressions of Huell Howser interviews. The key was for the brother playing Huell to be completely flabbergasted by the most mundane thing imaginable, while the other brother completely deadpanned his responses, which mostly consisted of "That's right, Huell."

Me: "So you put peanut butter AND jelly in this sandwich?!"
Brother: "That's right, Huell."
Me: "Well that's just wild! And you say that the outside of this sandwich is made of two slices of BREAD?!"
Brother: "That's right, Huell."
Me: "Well I never!"

This could go on for hours, and my parents eventually had to ban Huell-talk from the car.

If there is a heaven, and if I am somehow granted entrance, I look forward to sitting down with the backlog of Heaven' Gold episodes that will have accumulated between now and then.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 2:45 PM on January 7, 2013 [25 favorites]


This is so NOT amazing.

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posted by elsietheeel at 2:46 PM on January 7, 2013


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posted by Rash at 2:48 PM on January 7, 2013


The only reason i ever bought egg nog , finding those bottles described by Huell in Mothers Market 17th st Costa Mesa. How many other things did i do in CA were because of his introducing them to me?

RIP
posted by stuartmm at 2:50 PM on January 7, 2013


Are random youtube clips the only way to find his shows? I kind of wish one of the many travel channels on my extended HD package would just loop all his shows in a row 24/7 so I could pop in whenever I wanted.

The California Gold link in the OP leads to Huell Howser Productions, which includes links to itunes episodes, youtube clips, and site hosted streams.
posted by notyou at 2:50 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


So sad! The guy had one of my dream jobs.

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posted by DakotaPaul at 2:54 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sad news. So long Huell, and thanks for all the gold.

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posted by trip and a half at 3:02 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was also hoping that this wasn't in the cards after he announced his retirement. (If I ever am in a position to officially announce my "retirement" from doing successfully doing something that I love, will someone please come around and slap me in the face?)

RIP and godspeed, Mr. Howser. You did good. You did just fine. You even came out and lived your life while it was there to be lived, and we still loved the heck out of you.

A few years ago when our own cortex came through LA on his month long MeFi tour I loaded up a bunch of Huell Howser videos and clips to play in the car as Ambrosia Voyeur, contraption and other people in our group took cortex on a driving tour around LA, because I knew we were going to be in the car a lot - because, well, it's LA - and I wanted to share Huell, because there's just no better guide to finding the cool, weird and warm spots of LA than having some over-excited and annoyingly earnest hayseed transplanted from Tennessee to seek his fame and fortune in Hollywood to be your guide. (No, really. LA seems to reveal itself more to fresh, unjaded eyes. There's not a single molecule of sarcasm or malice in that description, it's all love.)

I think we only managed to play a couple of clips because it was kind of distracting and hard to pay attention to in the car, and I'm not sure how much cortex actually heard or got. But, yeah, this is the guy and his stories that I wanted to share.

I remember growing up and seeing his clips on the local PBS station KCET, back when he was still doing the Videolog segments that KCET would use as bumpers and fillers. I actually remember when they were new and first broadcast. The Videolog series didn't start till the mid 80s and so it was this new-fangled thing with fairly high video production values and some fancy, modern and thoroughly 80s-looking graphics treatments with the teal and magenta and polygons and art deco lines and stuff, and it was also MTV-like with the short clips and attention spans.

And even more so back then compared to now I remember being like "Who is this nerd, why does he talk so funny and why are his questions so obvious - and why can't I stop watching? And how does he keep finding and getting into all of these cool places!?"

I don't think I actually figured it out until my early to mid 20s after a decade of watching him - about how it was that earnest dorkiness that opened doors for him, and that it was those simple, obvious and remarkably reduced questions that made it so good for everyone, even though I had probably naturally been doing the same things and enjoying the same results and benefits in my own ways the whole time.

He's on two very, very short shortlists of people in my head. The first list being people in the media that I would actually enthusiastically want to meet and spend time with. The second list being people who have on-screen personalities that more or less match their off-screen ones and who probably aren't secretly or not so secretly total bastards off camera.

Sure, he'd have to be human like the rest of us - but he's up there with Mr. Rogers and Jim Henson for me. There aren't many other people on either of those lists. Bill Murray, maybe. Lily Tomlin, perhaps. I really don't maintain these kinds of lists as you can see, but Huell is definitely up there at the top.

I'm not really religious anymore, but the thought of Huell walking around Heaven with a microphone and his dorky trademark knit polo shirts and interviewing endless people from the deeply plain to deeply interesting is comforting. Well golllllll-ly!
posted by loquacious at 3:03 PM on January 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


How many other things did i do in CA were because of his introducing them to me?

For me it was The Apple Pan in south Westwood. It's a throwback little diner with a counter and stools, no booths, and I always wrote it off as some lame kitschy 1940s thing that old people must like. He did a visit there and the food sounded better than I thought so when I was stuck outside the Westwood mall one day looking for lunch, I walked into the Apple Pan and had a fantastic tuna melt, fries, and a coke. Working at UCLA just up the road, I'd end up at The Apple Pan about once every 3-4 months after that, all because of Huell.

(The KCET map just told me I must have watched California's Gold #307 - Buildings from 1998)
posted by mathowie at 3:04 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Stay gold, Huell. You'll be missed.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:09 PM on January 7, 2013


It can be hard to find gold in California -- living now in New York City, I blame the driving culture of the state, which keeps you from stumbling into cool things and impoverishes street culture. As many have said, Huell was a part of making Los Angeles tolerable for me when I was a tiny little transplant from rural Maine. Just last year I was pitching a show and using him as a reference point, something the show would be like. I think the testimonials here make it clear how much people still crave that kind of earnestness in this jaded world. Huell will be deeply missed.
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posted by gusandrews at 3:10 PM on January 7, 2013


I'm watching the 1992 clip of Huell visiting The Apple Pan. What a time capsule! Pretty sure some of the same counter-dudes are still there to this day.
posted by nacho fries at 3:15 PM on January 7, 2013


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Add me to the long list of people who randomly ran into Huell around town (okay, at Jamba Juice on Larchmont) and found him to be exactly like his on-screen persona. So sad to think of him now as belonging to the past.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:35 PM on January 7, 2013


A lovely man. I can hear his voice so clearly in my head and it makes me smile. Huell, you were the gold in California's Gold. I miss ya buddy and wish you had moved to NC along with me so we could have discovered Carolina's Gold together.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:36 PM on January 7, 2013


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He had a lagniappe at the very end of the last Winnie the Pooh movie.
posted by brujita at 3:43 PM on January 7, 2013


no....
posted by Room 641-A at 3:44 PM on January 7, 2013


May his ride on the eternal Camino Real be amaaaaaazing
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posted by Lukenlogs at 3:46 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mothers Market 17th st Costa Mesa

That place is legendary and I'm glad it's still there. My weekend visitations with my brother and my dad when I was growing up are right in that neighborhood. I used to skateboard on their loading dock area while my dad was doing laundry at the laundromat.
posted by loquacious at 3:50 PM on January 7, 2013


My partner and I cannot say the word "amazing" without following it up with a Huell impression. He was my introduction to California.

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posted by kamikazegopher at 3:52 PM on January 7, 2013


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posted by Guy Smiley at 3:58 PM on January 7, 2013


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California's Gold was great for finding inexpensive and quirky weekend fun when I was in grad school in the bay area.
posted by janell at 4:01 PM on January 7, 2013


Aw, gee fuckin' whiz! I'm going to miss you Huell.

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posted by snsranch at 4:20 PM on January 7, 2013


jfwlucy: "He was also Sir Cecil Creepe, wasn't he? Our Creature Feature host for the late night scary movies . . ."

Wait, WHAT??
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:23 PM on January 7, 2013


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posted by Ink-stained wretch at 4:36 PM on January 7, 2013


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posted by proneSMK at 4:47 PM on January 7, 2013


I also remember him from when I was a kid in Nashville, but had no idea what he'd done since then. Today is the first time I've heard his name in I don't know how long, but I immediately remembered him, he was nice back then, too. I can't find any video from that era, though.
But no, he wasn't Sir Cecil Creape.
posted by Red Loop at 4:51 PM on January 7, 2013


My favorite bit from the LA Times obituary: "an awestruck curiosity and relentless enthusiasm." YES. Those words are perfect.

Huell is one of the Top 5 things I miss about living in California. He will be missed.
posted by something something at 5:05 PM on January 7, 2013


I feel like somebody needs to mention adam carolla's fascination with huell. somebody else.

seems like huell was gay. also heard he was a marine. kinda the gomer pyle of public tv.
posted by Colonel Panic at 5:07 PM on January 7, 2013


Aw, I hoped this wasn't the case with his early retirement. The total outpouring of love and support has been really sweet. I hope he knew how well regarded he was before he passed on.
posted by Space Kitty at 5:07 PM on January 7, 2013


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posted by holyrood at 5:18 PM on January 7, 2013


They rerun his old shows constantly here in LA. I hope they keep it up for a long time. But for the changing fashions and the inevitable signs of Huell's physical aging, one of his shows from 1990 really isn't much different from one of his shows in 2010. It's just really nice to be able to turn on the TV at any time or the day or night and find Huell Howser, wandering through CA and being absolutely fascinated by every single person he meets.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:38 PM on January 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Huell went to my hometown and did a show about the highlight of our annual "Gold Nugget Days": The Donkey Derby. I can't tell you the thrill I felt as a kid, knowing that our bizarre recreation of a prospector's trudge to the assayer's office was being recognized by other parts of the state.

Thank you, Huell.
posted by DeWalt_Russ at 7:02 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


My mother used to watch California Gold whenever it was on, so Huell Howser was the tv equivalent of comfort food.

Goodbye Huell- California is a little less golden today.
posted by happyroach at 7:29 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Booooooo. This is sad news.

Can we talk about his biceps? That man had guns.

Guy in my head: "BRO, DO U EVEN LIFT?"

Huell: "Why, yes! Thank you for noticing! Shucks!"
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 7:39 PM on January 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I remember he used to do 15-minute in-betweens on PBS. Visits to the Max Factor Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock house, and many places off the beaten path. This makes me sad.
posted by Chuffy at 7:59 PM on January 7, 2013


Bummer! He was a genuinely nice guy!

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posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:35 PM on January 7, 2013


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very sad
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:51 PM on January 7, 2013


Aw, I'm so sad to hear this.

Sort of related: While I was pregnant with my son, I had these terrific cravings for Broguiere's Dairy chocolate milk- I must have gone through a quart a day for months. During that time the dairy was doing some sort of California Gold promotion, so every bottle had a big grinning picture of Huell on the side. Whenever my husband saw me taking a swig he'd go into Howser mode: "Well would you look at that! That's just amazing! Hey Louie, come over here and get a shot of this!" etc. I still have this Pavlovian response of tasting chocolate milk when I hear his voice.

So long, Huell & thanks for the good memories.
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posted by biddeford at 9:05 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm very sad.

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posted by halonine at 9:21 PM on January 7, 2013


Ma Ardship was wondering out loud who, if anyone, would note Mr. Howser's passing. Guess she doesn't have to tell you kids to get off the lawn this time.
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posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 9:22 PM on January 7, 2013


Mathowie and nacho fries, I can definitely say that one time making small talk at Apple Pan, the guy behind the counter revealed that he'd been working there 35 years!
posted by halonine at 9:23 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was just in Gelson's Market* and they have the Huell Howser bottles of Broguiere's Dairy milk--and in chocolate, too!
posted by calgirl at 9:37 PM on January 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


My favorite parts of KPCC's Off Ramp weekend radio show is the Huell Howser segments. When Huell announced his retirement from TV, I wondered if Off Ramp would stop interviewing him, too.

I loved his genuine excitement about whatever he was talking about.

Thank you, Mr. Howser. The world was better for you in it.
posted by msjen at 10:25 PM on January 7, 2013


As I said elsewhere today, "...so this GUY, who was once ALIVE, is NOW no longer DOING so? Well THAT is just aMAZing!"
posted by rhizome at 10:32 PM on January 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by luckynerd at 11:49 PM on January 7, 2013


Stay gold Huell
posted by Wyatt at 11:58 PM on January 7, 2013


I think my first exposure to Huell Howser, and definitely still one of my favorites, was the Mono Lake episode (viewable on the Chapman University site and also one of the episodes available on the Tunes podcast). You get a feel for his personality when early in the show he has a good-natured teasing encounter with a passing tourist who's amused at his reaction to the salty taste of the lake water. As the guy wanders off in the background later on, Howser breaks off his conversation with the ranger he's interviewing, turns around, and shouts over a friendly "nice-to-have-met-you" to a random stranger, right in the middle of the shot, before the person gets too far away. It's such a perfect, guileless, un-television kind of moment.

I think if Fred Rogers had been born with an incurable wanderlust, he would have grown up to be Huell Howser.

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posted by Lazlo Nibble at 12:02 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Col. Panic, I don't know if he ever said he was gay, but his obit says he lived in his dream house in Twenty Nine Palms, filled with mid century furniture from Palm Spring's second hand shops. So pretty much living the dream
posted by C.A.S. at 2:37 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember the Videolog segments from when I was a kid in the mid80s. In particular, I have this vague memory of him explaining that Tarzana was named for Tarzan, standing in an overgrown backyard, maybe with an empty swimming pool and telling how Burroughs had lived there, or something. And in general, Huell's voice is just part of all the summers we spent hiding from the heat, watching Reading Rainbow & Connections.

I haven't lived in California in more than 20 years, and so I haven't really seen the California's Gold series. Maybe I will now.

.
posted by epersonae at 9:03 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


speaking of, are you all familiar with Huell's mid-century desert lair home?
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:19 AM on January 8, 2013


Two things ;

1) As well as the Eggnog another great food search that Huell sent me and my friends on was to find and eat a kringle after seeing the Solvang episode. So much butter

2) if you want to find the volcano house on the map this is the link http://goo.gl/maps/9HK2Y to save you time.
posted by stuartmm at 11:16 AM on January 8, 2013


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From the LA Weekly, James Adomian on speaking with Huell Howser about his impersonation, along with his own connection to California's Gold.
posted by myopicman at 11:21 AM on January 8, 2013


Legend.

"...so this GUY, who was once ALIVE, is NOW no longer DOING so? Well THAT is just aMAZing!"

Chicken dinner.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:43 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huell's voice is just part of all the summers we spent hiding from the heat

Yes! Same here.

And still is to this day. During the Dog Days of Summer in L.A. (usually September), he is my solace. I bunker down in a darkened room, fan blowing across me, while watching old Huell clips online. He is like a tall glass of iced tea for my summer-parched psyche.
posted by nacho fries at 2:00 PM on January 8, 2013


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