King's savage beating by Los Angeles police officers came to represent a nadir in race relations in recent US history
Rodney King in April 2012. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
Rodney King, whose savage beating at the hands of Los Angeles police officers led to widespread rioting and a reassessment of race-relations in America, has died.
The 47-year-old's body was discovered by his fiancee at his swimming pool in Rialto, California, early Sunday morning.
Police pulled King from the water but were unable to resuscitate him. Foul play is not thought to have played a part in the death of a man whose life will forever be associated with one night of brutal violence, and its long-lasting impact on American society.
In an interview with the Guardian just last month, King acknowledged the role that his beatings played in the narrative of modern race-relations in the US.
"I'm comfortable with my position in American history," he said.
The incident that elevated King to a national symbol of racial prejudice occurred on 3 March 1991.
In the early morning hours of that day, the then-25-year-old was subjected to vicious assault at the hands of four white police officers at the side of a highway in Los Angeles.
King, on parole for a robbery conviction at the time, was surrounded by officers following a high-speed police chase through the city.
Lying on ground, he proceeded to be pummelled by the cops, who he later alleged yelled: "We are going to kill you, nigger."
The attack left King with severe injuries including a fractured skull and damage to internal organs. Three surgeons operated for five hours on his badly beaten body.
He said of the attack in an interview with the Guardian: "It was like being raped, stripped of everything, being beaten near to death there on the concrete, on the asphalt.
"I just knew how it felt to be a slave. I felt like I was in another world."
In all, King received 55 baton blows and six kicks to his body, all of which were captured on video by a nearby resident George Holliday, who came out to his balcony after being woken by sirens.
He later passed the footage on to a local TV network, from which it was soon taken up by media across the country.
Four officers were later charged over the beating, but a three-month trial resulted in three of the policemen being acquitted by a majority white jury. A mistrial was ruled for the fourth defendant after jurors deadlocked.
The verdicts were met with widespread anger in the black community, leading to violent clashes and looting in downtown LA.
On the third day of the destruction, King made a public statement calling for calm.
"People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along?" he said. But the rioting continued.
In all, some 53 people are thought to have died in the 1992 clashes, with an estimated $1bn in damage caused to property.
It marked a nadir in modern American race-relations and left a mark on the country for many years.
King was also left with permanent scars from the attack. In later life he battled alcoholism and on a number of occasions was stopped by police for driving offences.
The full details surrounding his death were not immediately clear, but Rialto police said it was launching a drowning investigation.
Reacting to the news, Rev Al Sharpton described King as "a symbol of civil rights".
In a statement, the black community leader added: "History will record that it was Rodney King's beating and his actions that made America deal with the excessive misconduct of law enforcement."