Just a little more than 20 years after his beating by police put him at the center of the L.A. riots, Rodney King has been found dead in his swimming pool in Rialto, California, according to reports. He was just 47.
The details are sparse at this point, but according to CNN, his fiance, Cynthia Kelly, called 911 at 5:25 a.m. after finding him at the bottom of the pool. Police efforts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful. How he ended up in the pool remains unknown, though foul play is not suspected and TMZ reports that he was drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana in the hours before his death. In any case, it's a terrible, tragic end to his very troubled life.
While King's name rose to fame because of the horrific beating in 1991, it seems he battled demons before that time, and certainly thereafter as well. At the time of the beatings, he was on parole, and had already served time in prison. He was fleeing police while driving drunk when the beating happened. While he was eventually awarded $3.8 million after suing the city of Los Angeles, his troubles certainly didn't end there.
His addictions seemed to drive his actions, and repeatedly over the years we saw him involved in a series of crimes and dangerous activities. From driving his car into a house while on PCP to threatening his daughter and girlfriend, and hitting his wife with a car, we saw him spiral deeper into a dark place.
How much of his behavior was fueled by the beating and the brain damage he suffered from it, we'll never know, because, tragically it did happen. The one comforting thing to note in the wake of his death, however, is that he didn't harbor anger over it, and had, in some way come to peace with what had happened. This past April -- on the anniversary of the riots -- he told CNN:
Yes, I've forgiven them, because I've been forgiven many times. My country's been good to me, and I've done some things that wasn't pleasant in my lifetime and I have been forgiven for that.
... It's like something happening bad in my own house. This country is my house, it's the only home I know, so I have to be able to forgive -- for the future, for the younger generation coming behind me, so ... they can understand and if a situation like that happened again they could deal with it a lot easier."
Whether an accidental civil rights hero or not, however, many will always remember him for the impact he had on police brutality and race relations. In a statement, Rev. Al Sharpton said:
Rodney King was a symbol of civil rights and he represented the anti-police brutality and anti-racial profiling movement of our time. It was his beating that made America focus on the presence of profiling and police misconduct.
King's death is sure to ignite debate about his legacy, but one thing we can all perhaps agree on is that now, at last, hopefully he will find some peace.
What will you remember most about Rodney King?