LOS ANGELES – Rodney King, whose beating by Los Angeles police helped spark the 1992 L.A. riots, died Sunday at his home in Rialto, Calif. He was 47.
King’s fiancée called 911 about 5:25 a.m. and said she had found King at the bottom of his pool, Sgt. Paul Stella said. Officers pulled him from the pool and began CPR until paramedics arrived and took King to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m., Stella said.
Preliminary information indicated that King drowned and there were no signs of foul play, Stella said. An autopsy will be conducted.
King’s next-door neighbor, Sandra Gardea, said that around 3 a.m., she heard music and someone “really crying, like really deep emotions. … I then heard someone say, ‘OK, Please stop. Go inside the house.’ … We heard quiet for a few minutes Then after that we heard a splash in the back.”
King became a symbol for police brutality and the troubled relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and minority residents. He was eventually awarded a $3.8 million settlement, but the money and fame brought him little solace. He had repeated run-ins with the law and recently said he was broke.
“I sometimes feel like I’m caught in a vise. Some people feel like I’m some kind of hero,” he said in an interview with the Times this year. “Others hate me. They say I deserved it. Other people, I can hear them mocking me for when I called for an end to the destruction, like I’m a fool for believing in peace.”
During a public appearance for a memoir published this year, King seemed in good spirits and said he was trying to turn a corner. The book’s title is “The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption.” King had long struggled with drugs and alcohol. He called himself a recovering addict but had not stopped drinking, and possessed a doctor’s clearance for medical marijuana. King last year appeared on VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab” trying to tackle his fight with alcoholism.
King was drunk and unarmed on March 3, 1991, when he was pulled over for speeding by Los Angeles Police Department officers and beaten.
The incident was captured on video by a civilian bystander, and the recording became an instant international sensation. Four of the officers were tried for excessive force. Their acquittal on April 29, 1992, touched off one of the worst urban riots in U.S. history.
A jury acquitted three of the officers in the beating, and was unable to reach a verdict on the fourth, unleashing an onslaught of pent-up anger. There were 54 riot-related deaths and nearly $1 billion in property damage as the seams of the city blew apart.
King this year said he was shocked to see the destruction of the riots that followed the not-guilty verdicts.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he said. “Mayhem … looting, burning. Gunshots. I turned back and went home. I looked at all of that and I thought to the way I was raised, with good morals from my mother, even though I didn’t always follow them.
“I said to myself, ‘That is not who I am, all this hate. I am not that guy. This does not represent me or my family, killing people over this. No, sir, that is not the way I was raised by my mother.’ I began to realize that I had to say something to the people, had to try to get them to stop.”
So, on the third day of the rioting, he pleaded on television: “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?”