His death, at a hospital, was confirmed by the Mariposa County coroner’s office to The Modesto Bee, a local news outlet.
Mr. Vasquez became an internet sensation in July 2010 after a video he had posted months earlier on YouTube — a three-and-a-half minute clip in which he enthusiastically observed two concentric rainbows from his California home — was shared by the late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.
“Wooo! Oh, wow!” Mr. Vasquez shouts in the video before breaking into tears at the double rainbow’s beauty. “It’s so bright and vivid. It’s so beautiful.” Within weeks, the video had garnered millions of views.
“Paul was a catalyst, and he made us and the world at large aware of the power of the internet,” his friend Robert Borchard, 76, said in a phone interview. “I never heard the term ‘viral video’ until Paul.” The clip has been viewed nearly 48 million times.
After the video’s takeoff, Mr. Vasquez was featured on Comedy Central’s “Tosh.0” and appeared as a guest on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Fans created remixed versions of his video, including one by the Gregory Brothers, who used Autotune to turn Mr. Vasquez’s spoken words into a song. The song became available on iTunes, and the Gregory Brothers performed a version of it live in 2011 at VidCon, an online video convention in Los Angeles. Mr. Vasquez was nominated for viral video star of the year at the People’s Choice Awards in 2011.
Paul Vasquez was born in 1962 in East Los Angeles. His father was a city bus driver, and as a child Paul explored the city using a free transit pass.
“I’ve always been someone who’s fearless and immensely confident,” he told CNN in 2015.
Mr. Vasquez joined the Los Angeles County Fire Department before moving to Yosemite, a park he had come to know well during his childhood, in 1985. There, he took on various park concessionaire jobs — security guard, emergency medical technician, firefighter — and eventually joined the National Park Service. He also worked as a cage fighter and a truck driver.
For most of his adult life Mr. Vasquez lived in a small mountainside home just 10 miles from Yosemite park and grew his own food. But in a March YouTube video, he said that a tree had fallen on his house in 2019, forcing him to move into a small apartment in town. He was a fixture in the community. “Everyone in Mariposa is connected to Paul in some way,” Mr. Borchard said.
Mr. Vasquez’s marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by a daughter, Irene, and a son, Paul.
Since releasing the “double rainbow” video Mr. Vasquez had continued to post frequently on YouTube and share status updates on Facebook. In a post on May 5, he disclosed that he was sick and being tested for the coronavirus.
“I’ll get my results in two days, however at this point I’m fairly certain that I don’t have it,” he wrote. “I didn’t have a fever. Something else is going on with me.”
Days later he died in the emergency room at John C. Fremont hospital in Mariposa, The Modesto Bee reported.
Though Mr. Vasquez was best known for his love of rainbows (“You can’t look at a rainbow anymore and not think about me,” he told CNN), he used his platform to share his appreciation of nature at large. He showed viewers how he grew his crops, caught and released rattlesnakes and grew wildflowers in his yard.
His fame didn’t make him rich — according to CNN, he was making only $6,000 a year in 2015 — but he said he was able to keep costs low by living off the land.
“Helping our culture reconnect with the world around us, that’s what his videos were about,” Mr. Borchard said of his friend. “Our urban lifestyle is disconnecting us from nature. Paul was trying to reconnect us. That’s his legacy.”