Southern California Icon Cal Worthington Dies at 92

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Photo by Kevin Scanlon.

He was a Southern Californian icon of epic proportions, with such a prolific amount of commercials dedicated to his sole obsession—cars and selling them—that they, in and of themselves, created their own culture.

“Go see Cal!” was a mantra for anyone living in the Southland after the 1960s.

And at 92, Calvin “Cal” Worthington, the Oklahoman transplant who never let his bucket cowboy hat leave his head—even for the palm-tree lined streets of California—passed away on Sunday at his famous 24,000-acre ranch in Orland, just north of Sacramento.

According to his family, Worthington died while watching Sunday Football and no foul play is suspected. 

Never a man to stray from entertainment and technology, Cal opted to advertise his first California car dealership—Hudson Motor Car in Huntington Park—with a three-hour country music special every Saturday and Sunday on KTLA. The show, Cal’s Corral, established him as a man of the screen and as television soon expanded in popularity and cost, he then switched to what would now be the common commercial.

cal worthingtonHis knack for business and tongue-in-cheek playfulness created the Cal Worthington empire: 29 dealerships that spanned from Alaska to Arizona, with Cal himself eschewing stand-alone dealerships for what we now call auto malls.

Of those 29 dealerships, all but three were eventually sold. But there is one that is particularly famed: Cal Worthington Ford in Long Beach, which is still in operation. “Go see Cal!” was not just a Southland slogan engrained into our denizens’ heads, but one which is deeply connected to Long Beach. With his “dog” Spot—often an exotic animal such as a tiger—Cal and his commercials became a model of business and local pride.

Cal leaves behind five children and four ex-wives; his last marriage ended in December of 2011 after less than a year of marriage. As of 2002, in addition to his three dealerships, he also owned three shopping centers and an office complex which grossed some $600M annually.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.
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