Remembering Sam Rubin: KTLA’s Gentleman on the Red Carpet Who Never Stopped From Having the ‘Best F—ing Time’

I spent the first 37 years of my life on the East Coast, and even there, I knew who Sam Rubin was.

The beloved KTLA Los Angeles entertainment reporter, who died May 10 at age 64, was a Hollywood fixture for over 30 years, beloved, trusted and respected. Drawing heartfelt tributes ranging from industry veterans like Tom Hanks and Henry Winkler and rising stars like Charmaine Bingwa, I’ve never seen such an outpouring for an entertainment journalist since perhaps Roger Ebert in 2013. Sam greeted everyone with the same infectious enthusiasm and genuine curiosity, whether they were industry stalwarts or nervous newcomers. He was synonymous with Los Angeles but he was also known well outside of Southern California through his reporting for ITV and Australia’s 9 Network.

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I was fortunate to spend time with Sam off-camera, serving with him on the board of the Critics Choice organization. On my first trip to Los Angeles in 2016, years before I joined Variety. Sam made me feel welcome in an extremely isolating place for outsiders. At Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, I observed a whirlwind of handshakes, hugs, and boisterous laughter emanating from the top of the carpet where Sam stood, warmly welcoming everyone, including the late James Lipton of “Inside the Actors Studio.” When I met Sam later that day, I blurted out, “I know you’re a TV guy, but I have to say, ‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’ is my quintessential Sam Rubin.”

The 1994 Freddy Krueger meta-spin-off film, in which Sam played himself in a televised interaction with actor Heather Langenkamp, was a core memory of mine since the tender age of 10. Sam could have easily rolled his eyes or said “thank you” before quickly conversing with a more interesting guest. Instead, he roared with his signature cackle before sharing a surprisingly poignant thought: “You know what I thought during that movie? Same thing now when interviewing legends: ‘I’m not supposed to be here, but that’s not going to stop me from having the best fucking time.’”

I never considered the profound effect that moment would have on me, shaping my approach to journalism. You don’t think about these things until it’s too late. I wish I had told Sam that story.

Serving alongside Rubin on the board of directors was an honor. That same killer journalistic instinct he brought to interviews shone through in every meeting as he probed and sought clarity with follow-up questions. His quest for understanding made him an effective leader and a passionate advocate for improving everything, not because it was a hot trend but because he genuinely cared. That can be rare in this business.

For three years, I was privileged to be a guest contributor to KTLA’s Critics Choice Awards pre-show. Watching Sam and his co-host, Jessica Holmes, in action was a highlight. This past January, I sat in the makeup chair, chuckling at Sam’s dad jokes while he rallied his team like a spirited coach prepping for a big game. I regret not asking him more questions. I should not have taken for granted that he would always be around to answer them.

Today, the sun in Hollywood shines a little less brightly, and the red carpets will be less joyful without Sam’s radiant presence in the future. His legacy as a pioneering figure and a true lover of people and the arts will forever light up our memories. We have lost a media icon, a genuine friend and a beacon of human connection.

We should all aim to be more like Sam.

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