John Schnabel has died, with the Gold Rush patriarch and legendary Alaskan gold miner passing away at 96.
Schnabel was a fixture on the Discovery Channel reality show, mentoring his grandson, Parker, who took a lead role on the show and assumed control of the family’s million-dollar mining operation.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better father, grandfather and overall family man,” the Schnabel family told People. “He was a true legend and we appreciate all of your love and support as we celebrate his wonderful life.”
The Discovery Channel aired a two-hour special honoring John Schnabel and remembering his relationship with Parker.
John Schnabel was beloved among Gold Rush fans, and was the subject of a cliffhanger to the end of the 2014 season when he had a health scare and thousands of people took to the internet to find out if Schnabel was still alive.
Schnabel was not only alive, but still active and even beat cancer in his later years. Shortly after turning 95, the man affectionately known as Grandpa Schnabel told Hollywood Soapbox that he considered himself blessed.
“To reach 95 and still be able to drive myself in my car, walk without a cane, and be clear of mind, with my surroundings and others is an experience that is hard to believe. I am deeply pleased,” he said.
Sadly, Grandpa John Schnabel passed away last night peacefully in his sleep at age 96. We'll miss you, Grandpa. pic.twitter.com/IoeOCI0ksH— Gold Rush (@Gold_Rush) March 18, 2016
John Schnabel had a colorful history. He was born in 1920 to a Kansas farmer, and in his younger years was involved in a bootleg alcohol brewing operation. When U.S. Marshalls came looking for Schnabel he escaped to Alaska. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor he served in the Air Corps in 1946. He went on to marry Erma Dire in 1950 and had five children.
It was actually a previous health scare that pushed John Schnabel into the gold mining industry, Hollywood Life reported. The military veteran had to undergo triple bypass surgery 30 years ago, and when a doctor suggested that he remain active Schnabel decided to purchase the Gold Nugget Mine in Porcupine Creek, Alaska.
John Schnabel was a key figure for his 21-year-old grandson, Parker, who took over the head of the family’s gold mining operation. Schnabel said he came to see promise in Parker, even though he was a young teenager when he started working in the family’s mining operations.
“It never came to mind that Parker could have a future in mining until he was 16. I decided to give up mining after I was diagnosed with cancer, and he asked me if he could continue operating the mine,” John Schnabel said. “Although I had a few misgivings, I finally gave in and helped him with paperwork and financing to give him a start. He has measured up in all areas, and I am proud of him.”
Parker also spoke glowingly of his grandfather, saying John Schnabel was a loving mentor.
“My grandfather has always been doing this since I’ve been around,” Parker Schnabel told Fox News. “I grew up mining with him on the mine site and running equipment … finding gold has been my life from the time I could remember.”
“That’s a big reason why we’re on the show – him and I do have a very good relationship and that resonates with a lot of people,” he added. “He’s definitely the reason that I’ve been successful … he is an old-school dude for sure.”
Family members said John Schnabel died peacefully in his sleep.
[Image via Discovery Channel]