MARIPOSA — The creator of one of the country’s most memorable viral nature videos has died.
Paul L. Vasquez, the burly, bearded mountain man whose emotional, awestruck reaction upon seeing a double rainbow propelled him to internet stardom and turned him into a folk hero, passed away over the weekend. He was 57.
Vasquez, who called himself Yosemitebear on social media, died early Saturday at a hospital emergency room, according to the Mariposa County coroner’s office.
“Paul loved the outdoors, nature and Yosemite,” said mountain area resident Sean Anderson, who learned of Vasquez’s passing through Vasquez’s daughter’s Facebook page.
Anderson called Vasquez “an incredible man that will be deeply missed by the community.”
The Modesto Bee, which first reported the story, said Vasquez’s cause of death has not been released. But Vasquez had recently posted on his Facebook page that while getting tested for COVID-19 he had learned about another unspecified ailment. He also posted that he was feeling sick and had had a high fever and trouble breathing.
In January 2010, Vasquez’s YouTube video shot from his mountainside house of a set of rainbows overlooking the Yosemite valley went on to get 46 million views after late-night talk show hosts Jimmy Kimmel tweeted about it and Jimmy Fallon parodied it (dressed as Neil Young).
Over the course of the ecstatic 3-minute video, Vasquez repeatedly said “whoa” and “oh my God” — laughing and even sobbing as he marveled at the sight of the rainbows.
“It’s a double rainbow all the way across the sky!” he exclaimed. “What does it all mean? It’s starting to even look like a triple rainbow.”
Vasquez went on to post regularly on YouTube, documenting his mountain life style and further encounters with nature.
In a 2015 interview with CNN, Vasquez said he had worked as a Los Angeles County firefighter before moving in the mid 1980s to Mariposa, where he worked odd jobs and lived alone in a mobile home close to Yosemite National Park.
Vasquez also worked for 10 years as a long haul trucker and according to Rolling Stone magazine, which ran a short obituary after his death, Vasquez also had one professional match as a cage fighter (he lost). He reportedly parlayed his internet stardom into promotional deals with Microsoft, Delta Airlines and Smartwater.
A cannabis grower and user, Vasquez said he wasn’t high when he shot the video. He told CNN that his solitude allowed him to connect to nature on a deep level and gave him a freedom most people could never understand.
“You can’t look at a rainbow anymore and not think about me,” Vasquez once said.