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Rodney King said beating case 'made the world a better place'

June 18, 2012 |  5:49 am

Rodney King may have faltered for most of his life in his role as a symbol of police abuse and racial tensions, but in talks with The Times just weeks before his death Sunday, he appeared more contemplative than ever about his role.

More than 20 years ago, King 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 on charges of using excessive force. Their acquittal on April 29, 1992, touched off one of the worst urban riots in U.S. history.

This year, for the 20th anniversary of the riots, reporters were calling and knocking at King's door for interviews, and his book, "The Riot Within," was published.

VIDEOS: Rodney King

He indicated he was beginning to accept his broader legacy.

"Yes, I would go through that night, yes I would. I said once that I wouldn't, but that's not true,” King told The Times. "It changed things. It made the world a better place."

In interviews with The Times this year, King had seemed a man still deeply haunted by the past and the expectations of him. He said he suffered nightmares and flashbacks from the beating, that he smoked marijuana and drank. He said he was always trying to calm his raw nerves, swimming in his pool or fishing in a nearby lake with worms he dug from his yard.

"I sometimes feel like I'm caught in a vise," he said. "Some people feel like I'm some kind of hero. 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."

GRAPHIC: Where are the L.A. riots’ key figures now?

Early Sunday morning, at age 47, King was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool in Rialto. Authorities say there was no evidence of foul play and are investigating his death as an accidental drowning.

King's fiancee, Cynthia Kelley, discovered him around 5 a.m., authorities said. They said she told investigators that she had been talking to him intermittently through a sliding glass door. At some point. authorities reported, she heard a splash, and ran out to find King submerged at the deep end of the pool.

Kelley said she could not swim well, so she called 911, official said. When police pulled King's body out of the water, he showed no signs of life, they said.


Rodney King, dead at 47 

Photos: Rodney King

Video: Rodney King beating

King found at bottom of pool by fiancee

King's death investigated as a drowning

King struggled with demons after beating

Rodney King "grieving" for Trayvon Martin

Streeter: The past still grips Rodney King

Rodney King had yet to "realize his importance"

Rodney King spoke to fiancee before she found him

Rev. Al Sharpton calls King "symbol of civil rights"

Morrison: Rodney King, 20 years after L.A.'s riots

-- Matt Stevens and Times staff