Rodney King found dead in home by fiance, confirms representative

On the 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots, Rodney King, seen here in this photo from April 2012, looks back on the beating and verdict that set off the civil unrest.

June 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Rodney King, the victim in the infamous Los Angeles Police Department brutally case in 1991, has died. He was 47.

King was found dead in his home by his fiance, his representative Suzanne Wickman confirmed to KABC-TV Eyewitness News on Sunday. The cause of death is unknown at this time.

The 1992 riots, set off by the acquittals of the officers, lasted three days and left 55 people dead, more than 2,000 injured and swaths of Los Angeles on fire. At the height of the violence, King pleaded on television: "Can we all get along?"

King was stopped for speeding on a darkened street on March 3, 1991. Four Los Angeles police officers hit him more than 50 times with their batons, kicked him and shot him with stun guns.

A man who had quietly stepped outside his home to observe the commotion videotaped most of it and turned a copy over to a TV station. It was played over and over for the following year, inflaming racial tensions across the country.

It seemed that the videotape would be the key evidence to a guilty verdict against the officers, whose trial was moved to the predominantly white suburb of Simi Valley, Calif. Instead, on April 29, 1992, a jury with no black members acquitted three of the officers; a mistrial was declared for a fourth.

Violence erupted immediately, starting in South Los Angeles.

Police, seemingly caught off-guard, were quickly outnumbered by rioters and retreated. As the uprising spread to the city's Koreatown area, shop owners armed themselves and engaged in running gun battles with looters.

During the riots, a white truck driver named Reginald Denny was pulled by several black men from his cab and beaten almost to death. He required surgery to repair his shattered skull, reset his jaw and put one eye back into its socket.

The police chief, Daryl Gates, came under intense criticism from city officials who said officers were slow to respond to the riots. He was forced to retire. Gates died of cancer in 2010.

On the 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots this past March, King looked back on the beating and verdict that set off the civil unrest. When the verdict was announced, King said he was beyond devastated.

"It felt like Armageddon. It felt like the end of the world," he told Eyewitness News anchor Marc Brown. "I was hurt. I was past upset."

The L.A. riots, which started April 29, 1992, was the worst riot in U.S history. Fifty-three people died and more than 2,000 were injured. Arsonists set some 7,000 fires and caused $1 billion in damage.

In the years since the beating and the following riots, King has struggled to live a stable life. He was arrested or detained by police at least a dozen times on charges ranging from DUI to domestic violence.

Just months ago, King released a book he co-wrote with author Lawrence Spagnola entitled, "The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption." It chronicles his life before, during and since the now-notorious videotaped beating in 1991 that cemented his place in history.

DEVELOPING-- Go to KABC-TV Eyewitness News for the latest on this story.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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