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1965-2012: Rodney King

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After years of battling his inner demons, Rodney King insisted he finally had them beat. “I’ve found peace,” King, 47, told PEOPLE during one of his last interviews on April 6. But much of King’s life was anything but peaceful. Discovered by his fiancee, Cynthia Kelley, dead at the bottom of his swimming pool in Rialto, Calif., on June 17, the unemployed construction worker careened into the nation’s consciousness in March 1991 after leading police on a high-speed chase that ended in his brutal beating captured on video. After all four white officers involved were initially acquitted, riots erupted in South Central L.A. that left 54 people dead. The case eventually led to the overhaul of the LAPD, and King received $3.8 million in damages. “If I were anywhere else in the world, I would never have received justice,” said King, who spent much of the following two decades battling alcoholism and said he remained tormented by the ordeal. By April of this year, he’d published his autobiography The Riot Within and was spending his days watching his grandkids splash about in his pool. “I’ve got no complaints,” he said. “I’ve always been lucky.”