Raul Rodriguez, who designed more than 500 floral floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade and conceived dazzling confections for other private and public celebrations around the world, died on Wednesday at his home in Pasadena, Calif. He was 71.
His spouse, Robert Cash, said that Mr. Rodriguez had been ill for some time and that he died of cardiac arrest.
Mr. Rodriguez dreamed up floats for Disneyland’s 50th anniversary in 2005; was the art director for the “We the People 200” celebration of the Constitution’s bicentennial in Philadelphia in 1987; served as a consultant to the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles; and designed installations for casinos (including the Flamingo Hotel’s pink neon facade in Las Vegas and the 22-story clown that graces the Circus Circus Hotel in Reno, Nev.), stores, restaurants and entertainment companies. He also illustrated children’s books.
His most conspicuous creations, though, were those he made for the Rose Parade. He designed his first when he was 15, a snow scene for the city of Whittier in California, and his final one in 2014, when — typically — he fielded multiple floats in the annual New Year’s Day procession in Pasadena.
Mr. Rodriguez was classically trained in drawing and painting, but when it came to pageantry he might just as well have been inspired by Oscar Wilde’s credo that nothing succeeds like excess.
In 2013, the chromatic “Dreaming of Paradise” float he designed for Dole Packaged Foods, and which he rode on with his signature pet macaw, featured a 26-foot-tall volcano spewing smoke and flame and 1,000 gallons of recycled water cascading into a fruit-laden tropical rain forest adorned with about 25,000 hot-pink roses, 10,000 dendrobium orchids and 8,000 florescent orange roses.
The Dole float won the sweepstakes award that year, contributing to Mr. Rodriguez’s record as the winningest designer in the parade’s history.
The city of Cerritos in California once asked him to replicate its library on a float, to encourage reading. Instead, he whimsically built a 50-foot-tall bookworm. For Natural Balance Pet Foods, he conceived a 113-foot-long float on which dogs could slide down a chute into 4,000 gallons of water.
Raul Ruben Rodriguez was born on Jan. 2, 1944, in Los Angeles, the son of Ruben Rodriguez, a sheet-metal worker, and the former Natalie Cortez, a department store supervisor. In addition to Mr. Cash, he is survived by two sisters, Irene Rodriguez-Morgan and Teresa Arzola.
His parents encouraged his artistic talent, he told The Los Angeles Times in 1992: “My mother wouldn’t erase the drawings I did on the dining room wall.”
He won a scholarship to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and graduated from Cerritos College and California State University, Long Beach.
Mr. Rodriguez viewed his floats as “moving stage sets,” unique art forms that allowed him to recreate exotic locales from around the world. While his fanciful creations were meticulously planned for months, they were built with natural components and typically for one-time events, which meant they usually lasted only a matter of days.
In an interview with The Glendale News-Press, he described the Rose Parade as “the five-and-a-half-mile smile.” Each Jan. 1, he said, “If we can start the year on a positive, we did our job.”