Rodney King, whose beating by police in 1992 sparked one of the worst urban riots in US history, was found dead in his swimming pool early Sunday. He was 47.
Police officers dived into the pool, still wearing their uniforms, to recover the body of the man who became a symbol of racial tensions and police brutality in America after his beating by baton-wielding LA police was caught on camera.
Police Captain Randy Deanda told AFP that King was found “unresponsive” at the bottom of the pool at his home in Rialto, California after a 5:25 a.m. call from his fiancee Cynthia Kelley.
He did not respond to resuscitation efforts from police and firefighters, and was pronounced dead at the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center at 6:11 a.m.
“Preliminarily, there do not appear to be any signs of foul play,” Deanda added, noting that police were conducting a drowning investigation and that the coroner’s office would perform an autopsy within the next 24-48 hours.
In 1991, King was severely beaten by four white police officers who struck him more than 50 times with their wooden batons and used a stun gun following a high-speed car chase.
The officers went on trial for use of excessive force but were acquitted on April 29, 1992, triggering days of deadly rioting in Los Angeles that left more than 50 people dead and caused around one billion dollars in damage.
As Los Angeles was ripped apart by crowds who looted businesses, torched buildings and attacked one another, King made a personal plea for peace.
“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along?” he asked on the third day of rioting, going off script from the statement planned by his lawyers.
Speaking ahead of the 20th anniversary of the riots, King said racism still has to be challenged. He published a memoir, “The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption,” to mark the anniversary.
“There’s always gonna be some type of racism. But it’s up to us as individuals in this country to look back and see all the accomplishments that we have gotten to this far,” he told CNN.
Asked about his feelings toward the police officers who beat him, he said: “I have forgiven [them], because America has forgiven me for so many things and given me so many chances. You get to have a second chance, and I’ve been given a second chance,” said King, who has had a number of brushes with the law since 1992.
“I have much respect for [the police], much respect . . . some of them went out of their way over the years to try to make it up to me. Not all of them is bad.”
In an earlier CNN interview, King recalled that he had been drinking despite being on parole after a 1991 robbery conviction and was headed home from a friend’s house when he saw a police car was following him and panicked, worried he would be sent back to jail.
After fleeing by car, he tried to park in a public place when he realized police officers were catching up with him.
“I saw all those apartments over there, so I said, ‘I’m gonna stop right there,’” he said. “’If it goes down, somebody will see it.’”
King said as the officers beat him, they yelled, “We are going to kill you, nigger,” although police later denied using racial slurs.
After the events that catapulted him into the spotlight, King had further run-ins with the law as he battled an addiction to drugs and alcohol.
“For a long time, sure, I was letting the pressure of being Rodney King get to me. It ain’t easy,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
“Even now, I walk into a place wondering what people are thinking. Do they know who I am? What do they think about what happened? Do they blame me for the all those people who died?”
King was arrested in 2005 for making threats to kill his daughter and his daughter’s mother after the two women got into an argument with his then-girlfriend.
Police also stopped him in 2003 for allegedly punching a girlfriend. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving earlier the same year after crashing his car into a house.
In Nov. 2007, he was treated in hospital after an incident in which he was shot and wounded in the face, back and upper torso, in the Los Angeles suburb of San Bernardino.