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Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - Page updated at 04:30 a.m.
Rodney King, whose beating ignited riots, dies at 47
By Kurt Streeter, Kate Mather and Shelby Grad
Los Angeles Times
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.
Mr. 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."
Mr. King's fiancée called 911 about 5:25 a.m. and said she had found him at the bottom of his pool, Sgt. Paul Stella said.
Officers pulled him from the pool and began CPR until paramedics arrived and took Mr. King to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m., Stella said.
Police Capt. Randy De Anda said Mr. King had been by the pool throughout the early morning and had been talking to his fiancée, who was inside the home at the time.
A statement from police said the preliminary investigation indicates a drowning, with no signs of foul play.
Investigators will await autopsy results to determine whether drugs or alcohol were involved, but De Anda said there were no alcoholic beverages or paraphernalia found near the pool.
Authorities didn't identify the fiancée. Mr. King earlier said he was engaged to Cynthia Kelley, one of the jurors in the civil-rights case that awarded Mr. King $3.8 million in damages.
During a public appearance for a memoir published this year, Mr. King seemed in good spirits and said he was trying to turn a corner in his life. The book's title is "The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption."
Mr. 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. Mr. King last year appeared on VH1's "Celebrity Rehab," trying to tackle his fight with alcoholism.
He 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.
A jury acquitted the four police officers in the beating of Mr. King, unleashing an onslaught of pent-up anger on April 29, 1992. There were 54 riot-related deaths and nearly $1 billion in property damage as the seams of the city blew apart.
Mr. King this year said he was at peace with what happened to him.
"I would change a few things, but not that much," he said. "Yes, I would go through that night, yes I would. I said once that I wouldn't, but that's not true. It changed things. It made the world a better place."
Mr. King lived in Southern California much of his life.
When he was 2, his family moved from Sacramento to Altadena.
Mr. King's parents cleaned offices and homes for a living. His father, Ronald, known in the neighborhood as "Kingfish," died in his early 40s from pneumonia.
In junior-high school, Mr. King said, he began drinking. In 1989, he pleaded guilty to robbing a market in Monterey Park; the owner accused Mr. King of attacking him with a tire iron. Mr. King was given a two-year sentence.
Two years later, the videotaped beating occurred.
Mr. King said he was shocked to see the destruction of the riots that followed the not-guilty verdicts.
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?"
During the first decade after the riots, Mr. King started an unsuccessful hip-hop recording company.
Over the past 20 years, he had had repeated contact with law enforcement.
"For a long time, sure, I was letting the pressure of being Rodney King get to me. It ain't easy. 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?"
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