LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Hundreds of mourners remembered Rodney King, a symbol of racial tension in Los Angeles and catalyst for sweeping law-enforcement reforms after his 1991 beating by police officers, as a figure of national healing at a public memorial before his burial on Saturday.
“He tried to use his scars to heal a nation,” the Reverend Al Sharpton told a news conference outside the Forest Lawn Hall of Liberty in the Hollywood Hills, where the remembrance service was held.
King was found by his fiancée Cynthia Kelly drowned on June 17 at the bottom of his backyard swimming pool in Rialto, California, a suburb about 50 miles east of Los Angeles. He was 47.
Police have said they found no initial evidence of foul play or outward signs of suicide and were investigating King’s death as an accident.
Results of toxicology and tissue studies were still pending, authorities said, and there were questions about how King, who by all accounts was an avid swimmer, ended up drowning in his own pool.
Among the mourners gathered for the 2 p.m. (2100 GMT) service were King’s three daughters – Dene, Candice and Tristan.
“You rise above your scars to heal. Rodney King was a healer. He turned his scars into stars,” Sharpton said.
The service was held in the auditorium which was also used for the private 2009 funeral of Michael Jackson before the pop star’s public memorial service at the Staples Center.
The beating of King, who was black, was caught on videotape and widely replayed. His death came two months after the 20th anniversary of Los Angeles riots triggered by the acquittal of four white police officers prosecuted for the beating.
During the racially charged unrest, which killed more than 50 people and caused more than $1 billion in property damage, King famously appealed for calm in a televised appearance in which he asked rhetorically, “Can we all get along?”
The case helped bring attention to the issue of racial profiling by law enforcement and led to far-reaching reforms in the Los Angeles Police Department.
King, who long struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, financial difficulties and legal problems, had this year published a memoir entitled “The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption.”
About 300 mourners gathered in the auditorium, where King’s gray casket topped with a spray of white flowers was flanked by a large photograph of him smiling warmly.
King’s daughter Dene, 28, said her father would be remembered for his smile, his heart and his unconditional love. Following the burial, a reception was to be held at the Universal City Sheraton.
Two of the four white officers acquitted of state charges by a jury in 1992 were later convicted of federal charges and sentenced to 30-month prison terms. A civil jury later awarded King $3.8 million in damages. One of the jurors was Kelly, who became his fiancée.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Bill Trott and Mohammad Zargham)