Just a few months ago, Rodney King was once again the center of attention as the world checked back in on the man whose videotaped beating by police sparked one of the nation’s worst race riots.
King had left Los Angeles behind, moving an hour east to a home where neighbors would often hear him splashing in the pool late at night.
King was found around 5:30 a.m. on Sunday at the bottom of the swimming pool at his Rialto, Calif., home.
His death at age 47 is being treated as an apparent drowning and there are no signs of foul play, but Capt. Randy De Anda said autopsy results would be needed to determine whether drugs or alcohol were a factor.
De Anda said King was only in the water three to four minutes between the time his fiancée called 911 and when officers arrived and pulled him from the water. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m. The autopsy was set for Monday.
It was a grim end for King, who symbolized the problem of police brutality and struggled with addiction and repeated arrests.
He spent the last months of his life promoting a memoir he titled, “The Riot Within: From Rebellion to Redemption.”
It was from the kitchen of his home overlooking the pool he would lose his life in that King conducted what would be his last interview on April 16 with The Philadelphia Tribune.
He spoke about the upbeat note his life had taken and the physical and emotional scars from the more than 50 baton blows that remained.
“I have told my story many times, you know, in court, on the street to people,” said King. “To have a (book) writer, and for me to put together everything I have in notes, I thought it would be good for my grandkids and my kids to have something if I passed away tomorrow — something they can read that’s close to my words. And I say very close to my words because there was a second writer. It was very important for me to have my words out there, and in a book, so my grandkids and my kids can read it for themselves — especially if they see the videotape, which they will.” Almost in a whisper, King added, “I am so blessed that camera was on me that night.”
In his autobiography, King described his uneasy feelings about the events of his life, especially in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots.
Twenty years later, King still pondered the lasting significance of his simple yet profound plea: “Can we all get along?”
“For me, for me, for me: those words have worked,” explained King. “They worked then, and that’s just how I was raised ... It’s scary, and I can understand how people feel over the years, especially minorities because we’re always scorned or looked upon or judged. It hasn’t been an all-heavenly ride growing up as a Black young man. It ain’t what it’s all cracked up to be. You know at a certain age when you have to start watching your back just because of your color. It’s shameful and it’s kind of hurtful to know that once you get a certain age, this can really happen ‘cause it happened in the past. I think it’s very important that America always, always, have plays, and activities and reading so we can teach the young people how important it is for use to go forward. Because they are the future. All of us older, and that’s here before any newborn that’s born right now, we have that responsibility. Before the next baby is born, within the second that we’re talking, it’s our responsibility to educate as far as race.”
Throughout the 40 minute interview, King often self-identified as an “American Negro.” While the usage of the term “Negro” has declined in the post-Civil Rights Movement era, King wholeheartedly embraced the classification as a part of his personal legacy.
“It’s holding on to my heritage,” said King. “It’s the first way I know how. A Negro American, well, a lot of work went into that. It’s a lot of pain and life-taking time that went on over the years. That’s what’s on my birth certificate, so I’d like to hang on to that one. African American is cool, but I’m a Negro American because of the work, the marches, the deaths, the whippings, the release of slavery — all that belongs to the Negro American. All our credit is still due, so before you call me an African American I want my credit as a Negro American. I don’t know how it’s going to go about at the end, but I’m working everyday on earning my respect as a Negro American here in this country.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.