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In a career spanning more than 50 years, Raul R. Rodriguez dazzled crowds with his float designs at the annual Rose Parade in California.
He known as “Mr. Rose Parade” and had the distinction of creating over 500 floats in his lifetime.
The 71-year-old died of cardiac arrest at his home in Pasadena, California on Wednesday afternoon, his family announced, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Rodriguez’s career as a float maker began at 15, when he won a high school contest to design a float for the city of Whittier. He took home the prize for best float that year, which eventually led to more than 500 floats and multiple awards.
“Early in my live, I got to see my imagination become a reality,” he told the LA Times in 1995.
Soon after his parade debut, Rodriguez received a scholarship to the Art Center College of Design – it took him three buses to get there.
He joined the Army and was stationed in Taipei. When returned stateside, he enrolled at California State University, Long Beach, where he specialized in drawing, painting and illustration.
Soon his career design floats would take off.
Throughout his career, Rodriguez dreamed up Indonesian rainforests, winter wonderlands, even a huge carnation-draped Queen Isabella gesturing at a globe, nodding at Christopher Columbus.
In the late 1970s he formed a design firm that went on to design such icons like the pink neon façade at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and the 22-story clown outside of Reno’s Circus Circus Hotel and Casino.
Rodriguez’s last appearance at the Rose Parade was in 2013, when he rose in a float designed for Dole that featured two giant parrots perched on a tree and a volcano with bright-red petals for lava.
He told the LA Times in 1995 that he measured his success by the smiles of parade-goers.
“The minute I see a big, wonderful smile… Oh, man, the feeling that comes over me when that happens is unbelievable,” he said.
Rodriguez, born the day after New Year’s Day, 1944, was the oldest of three born to a sheet-metal worker and a department store supervisor.
He told the LA Times in 1992 that his parents recognized his knack for art and encouraged him to express himself.
“My mother wouldn’t erase the drawings I did on the dining room wall,” he said.
Rodriguez is survived by his spouse, Robert Cash, and his sisters Irene Rodriguez-Morgan and Teresa Arzola.