The man at the center of the L.A. riots was found dead at the bottom of a swimming pool Sunday morning

By People Staff
June 17, 2012 11:35 AM
Matt Sayles/AP

Rodney King, the man at the center of the Los Angeles riots, was found dead Sunday morning. He was 47.

Rialto, Calif. Police Sgt. Paul Stella tells PEOPLE that King’s fiancée called police at 5:25 a.m. to say that she’d found King dead at the bottom of their pool. Officers pulled him out and administered CPR, which was unsuccessful. King was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead at 6:11 a.m.

Detectives are now on scene, conducting a drowning investigation, but there hasn’t been an official ruling on cause of death.

“I spoke with him about a week ago. He was really happy, upbeat and engaged,” says Suzanne Wickham, director of publicity at Harper Collins, who published King’s book, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption, in April. “We were talking about him doing college lectures. He’d already gotten an offer from one college and we were hoping to get more. He was really excited. He loved talking to kids.”

King’s passing comes more than 20 years after he was beaten by L.A. police in 1991 following a high-speed chase. The incident, including startling images of King trying to crawl away from police, was caught on video, and the acquittal of the officers involved sparked the race riots that erupted in Los Angeles the following year.

Thousands were injured and 53 people died throughout the riot, which caused about $1 billion in property damage and inspired a national dialogue about racially-motivated police brutality.

“People, I just want to say, can we all get along?” King said on the third day of rioting after days of seclusion, according to CNN. “Can we get along?”

King was awarded $3.8 million in a civil case, but was left with permanent brain damage. He was arrested last year for DUI but told PEOPLE in April that he was doing well and was no longer drinking “as much as I used to.”

TMZ first reported the news of King’s death.