Rodney King, who died Sunday at 47, struggled with demons in the years after his beating by LAPD police officers made him a household name.
King became a symbol for police brutality and troubled relations between the LAPD and minority residents. He was eventually awarded a $3.8-million settlement. But the money and the fame brought him little solace. He had repeated run-ins with the law and as of April said he was broke. He wrote a book this year recounting his struggles.
The settlement did provide a down payment on his home in Rialto. He said he cobbled together mortgage payments; every so often he would get hired to pour concrete at a construction site.
He received an advance of less than six figures, he said, for allowing his story to be told in a book: “The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption.”
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 said he was scarred by the beating. King was drunk and unarmed 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.
“It felt like I was an inch from death,” he said, describing what it was like to be struck by batons, stung by Tasers.
A jury acquitted the four police officers in the beating of King, 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.
In an interview with The Times this year, King confided 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.”
What emerged from both the book and the man was the picture of someone who had spent two decades coping, not always very well, with the blows that police inflicted on the night of March 3, 1991, and with the notoriety that came later.