CA historian, USC professor dies at age 76

Kevin Starr, a California historian and professor at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, died on Jan. 14 of a heart attack in San Francisco, Calif. He was 76.

Starr joined the USC faculty in 1989 as a professor of history and policy, planning and development.

“Professor Starr was our dear friend, a beloved teacher and a USC treasure, but he truly belonged to the world,” USC President C. L. Max Nikias said, according to USC News. “His bright mind, rigorous intellect and passion for language will be deeply missed.”

Starr was known for writing the eight-volume series Americans and the California Dream, which documented the history of California, and various other books about the history of the state.

He earned his Ph.D. in English and American literature at Harvard University in 1969. He also earned a Master’s in library science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1974.

“Kevin Starr chronicled the history of California as no one else,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement. “He captured the spirit of our state and brought to life the characters and personalities that made the California story.”

Starr also served as  California’s state librarian from 1994 to 2004, when then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger named him State Librarian Emeritus. Starr received the Presidential Medal from USC in 2005, and the next year, President George W. Bush awarded him the National Humanities Medal.

In 2016, Starr published Continental Ambitions: Roman Catholics in North America: the Colonial Experience, and was writing the sequel when he died, according to The New York Times.

“Kevin wrote ‘til the day he died. He was a productive and indefatigable scholar and the greatest historian of California,” said fellow USC professor Dana Gioia, according to The Orange County Register. “People who knew him held him in enormous affection because any situation was always better if he was around.”

Kevin Starr is survived by his wife, Sheila Starr; two daughters, Jessica Starr and Marian Starr Imperatore; and seven grandchildren.