Kevin Starr on April 19, 2013 at the USC Bovard Auditorium in Los Angeles, Calif. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Kevin Starr on April 19, 2013 at the USC Bovard Auditorium in Los Angeles, Calif. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Author of California histories and former State Librarian Kevin Starr dies at 76

LOS ANGELES — Former California State Librarian Kevin Starr, who wrote rich cultural, economic and political histories on the birth, growth and maturation of the Golden State, died on Saturday. He was 76.

Starr, a professor at the University of Southern California, died of a heart attack Saturday at a hospital in San Francisco, according to his wife of 53 years, Sheila Starr.

Starr captured the state’s rise in influence, and its singular hold on the public imagination, in his sweeping “Americans and the California Dream,” a series of books that start in the 19th century and go on to focus on the Progressive Era, the 1920s, the Great Depression and other distinct chapters of California’s past.

Throughout his work, Starr showed a familiarity with a vast range of topics central to the state’s development — and its image of itself: architecture, agriculture, literature, water infrastructure and the entertainment industry, among others.

“He was the greatest historian Los Angeles and California ever had and ever will have,” said former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who hosts a book club that counted Starr as one of its original members.

A fourth-generation San Franciscan, Starr was born in 1940, graduated from the University of San Francisco in 1962 and went on to earn his doctorate in American literature seven years later at Harvard University. At one point, he wrote a daily column for the San Francisco Examiner. He became a professor of history and policy, planning and development at USC.

“California has lost its eminent biographer,” said USC Provost Michael Quick. “And we have lost one of our most valuable and trusted professors. The history of California could not be written without him both as a scholar and as the California State Librarian. Our students were lucky to have had him in the classroom and as a memorable lecturer.”

Starr was named State Librarian in 1994 and retired from the post a decade later. He was named State Librarian Emeritus by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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

“He loved life, and he lived life in a beautiful and grand way — to the fullest,” Jessica Starr said. “We’re sorry he is no longer with us. He was taken too soon.”California

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