SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — In this week’s News 8 Throwback we honor Larry Himmel. He was an incredible and unique talent, and we are so fortunate that we can continue to share his stories.
Larry was born and raised in the Chicago area and attended Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. With a master’s degree in speech in hand, he moved West. He worked in radio, tended bar in Ocean Beach, and emceed at The Comedy Store in La Jolla. He worked with a lot of up-and-coming comedy legends, including David Letterman.
Legend has it that News 8 News Director Jim Holtzman caught his act there and suggested he work for News 8. After all, newscasts could use a little spicing up and who better than Larry to do that? In 1979 Himmel at Large debuted on News 8. Always clever, sassy, and funny -- he told stories like no one else. He may not have been native, but he became its unofficial poet laureate. Excerpt from Thanksgiving 2006: “Just look around and you can tell we’re America’s Finest City, it’s true. So many blessings I don’t know where to start and there’s something I need to depart and it comes straight from the heart so this one I thought I’ll share for all of you who have stuck with me all the way back to Biff and Skippy and even though this verse is very iffy, I’m so thankful that you’re there.” We, Larry, are so thankful that you were here.
In 1994 Larry made the trek up to LA to catch up with his old buddy David Letterman. Dave said he would love to move the show to Los Angeles because he had happy memories of living here--especially San Diego. "If you can get away with it, living out here is just delightful." He said goodbye and then hung out with the folks waiting all day for a chance to get on the show. Letterman sidekicks Biff Henderson and Larry "Bud" Melman joked around with Larry too. And always quick with a line--he asked a man who proudly announced that he worked with George Cukor, Frank Capra, and John Huston at MGM--if he knew Ted Leitner--oh yeah, he was a cameraman wasn't he? No, more like a camera hog. Oh Larry!!
Channeling his stand-up days Larry told tales of people waiting in line at the phone company store who were having issues with their telephones. In 1980 there were a lot of phones to choose from--Micky Mouse, Snoopy, princess, and a yellow one that looked like a chalkboard/phone combo. Telephones were statement pieces. Larry suggested that you could tell a lot about a person's lifestyle just by checking out their telephone. Oh, what we're missing out on in 2021.
In June of 1979 Larry had to make the dreaded trip to the DMV because his driver license was about to expire. He found the folks working there were friendly and helpful—he just didn’t like waiting in lines and having to take the written test every four years—aren’t we glad we don’t have to do that anymore?
Rock and roll will never die as long as there are Gibson guitars. The company was celebrating 100 years in business. Larry jammed with his rock-n-roll pals Jerry Raney of The Beat Farmers and Hank Easton of The Steely Damned. Jerry said Gibson guitars had a smooth, heavy, fat, ugly sound and Hank said it had a warm sound. Saul Frank of Centre City Music said Gibson was introducing a few new guitars and they cost around a $1000 each. After the story aired, Larry said Hank was playing at The Catamaran and Jerry, at The Belly Up that week. No doubt Larry was there supporting them. He loved music and was a big supporter of the local music scene.
Larry passed away November 5, 2014 from pancreatic cancer. Taken much too soon, he was 68 years old. His legacy continues in his wonderful, hilarious stories he created. His son Miles started The Larry Himmel Neighborhood Foundation and it’s doing great things in the community Larry so loved.
This plaque hangs over the newsroom in dedication to the one and only Larry Himmel who brightened it up from 1979-2014. He’s watching over us.
News 8's Marcella Lee remembers Larry
"Larry Himmel had the true gift of making you feel like you’d known him your entire life. He was extremely humble but had a personality that was larger than life. Just thinking about Larry walking into the studio, or chatting with him in his office, makes me smile -- I am smiling as I write this... because HE ALWAYS made me smile. I remember the day he told me he had pancreatic cancer. He was determined not to let it slow him down. He left work during the middle of his shift to get treatment, and then returned to finish his workday. He was a fighter to the very end. Larry continues to be an inspiration to me -- his gift of storytelling was so unique -- he made us laugh, he made us cry, he made us care. I feel so blessed to have been able to work alongside Larry Himmel for a decade and call him my friend."
Ode to Larry by Barb Nielsen
From Chicago he came
out West to make a name
quick with a quip
sharp as a tack
his radio and comedy career were on track
soon tv came calling
was there a place in a newsroom for such a man?
his new boss Jim came up with a plan
the funny guy was given free reign
and the serious newscast was never the same
he knew San Diego, its quirks and its class
delivering the lines full of humor and sass
there indeed was a place at news 8
and so it was his fate
to grace the airwaves for 35 years
telling tales to make us laugh and sometimes bring tears
the folks from Fallbrook to OB had stories he wanted you to see
from the screw collector in Julian to a cat fancier in PB
he ate a lot too visiting restaurants with a twist
Sister Pee Wee's Soul Food on the top of the list
music was his passion so he covered the lands
putting on air the best of the bands
And then came San Diego at Large
He was Biff of Mission Beach, and he was in charge
Skippy was his best pal
And Andrea their favorite gal
they were silly as can be, a great escape, and all wanted to see
Sports, weather, no problem at all
whatever the task, no order too tall
There will never be another quite like Larry
A gift for us to treasure beyond all measure
he brightened up the neighborhoods of our town
turning frowns upside down
we'll try to carry on but forget him we never will
a void in the newsroom we won't ever fill.