Rodney King Buried at Forest Lawn Last Saturday, But Questions and Rumors Still Persist About The Moments Before His Death
Rodney King, in whose name thousands rioted in 1992 after the cops who Tasered and beat him nearly to death were exonerated by a Simi Valley jury, was buried Saturday at Forest Lawn Cemetery among Los Angeles notables and Hollywood celebrities. His funeral came two weeks after he found unresponsive at the bottom of his pool at his Rialto, California home, some 50-odd miles away from Los Angeles.
There were two funeral services. One private service was for the family, many of whom, including King’s mother, were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, and close friends of the family; and at the other service the family invited the public to mourn with them.
[King] leaves a complicated legacy. So I was grateful for the invitation from lawyer Steve Lerman to join King’s family at his funeral last weekend.
Lerman was King’s first attorney, the man who stood with him before television cameras as King tried to tamp post-verdict rage with his stuttered: “Can we … can we all get along?”
Lerman helped broker Saturday’s memorial — which morphed, because of family dissension, into two separate funerals for Rodney Glen King:
King’s mother, Odessa, and some of his siblings insisted on something simple and low-key, consistent with their Jehovah’s Witness beliefs. That service lasted barely 20 minutes, with an open casket and brief Scripture readings. King’s mother left for a relative’s home in Altadena when it ended.
King’s daughter, Dene, envisioned a grand public tribute in a 1,200-seat pavilion, one that reflected the family’s affection for the man they called “Glen” and honored the role of “Rodney” in history. That funeral was preceded by a news conference and featured activist Al Sharpton.
The services were both dignified and emotional. But the hours between them were upbeat and down-home.
The gathering served as a family reunion of sorts for the dozens of Coles, Powers, Passmores, Baileys, Dennisons, Wades, Duncans, Watsons and Kings — folks reflecting the roots and branches of one man’s far-flung family tree.
Death tends to kindle our urge to connect. I was hugged more than once by strangers who figured I must be someone’s cousin, ex-wife or sister-in-law.
To them, King’s legacy was not muddy at all. He was a respectful son, a supportive brother, a proud and loving father who died too young.
“He was trying to be a better friend, a better father, a better son,” King’s cousin Charles Powers told the mourners at the public service. “He was trying to do what he should have done.
“He wished he could have done better.”
But, even in death, the poor man was surrounded by controversy. King reputedly died insolvent, so King’s survivors asked for donations to pay for the estimated $27,000 price tag for his send-off. This news ticked off even sympathizers, some of whom wondered aloud what had happened to the nearly $4 million payoff that King had received from the City of Los Angeles. However, despite the complaints, I truly believe King deserved his place at Forest Lawn. He was a part of California, American, and African American history.
Black rights campaigner the Reverend Al Sharpton called King a “symbol of forgiveness” ahead of his funeral at the Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills cemetery, north of the city.
“People should not be judged by the mistakes that they make, but by how they rise above them,” Sharpton said. “Rodney had risen above his mistakes, he never mocked anyone, not the police, not the justice system, not anyone.
“He became a symbol of forgiveness,” he added before the funeral, also attended by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.
One of his daughters, 28-year-old said Laura Dene King, 28, called her father a “gentle giant”.
“I will remember his smile, his unconditional love… He was a great father, a great friend, he loved everyone. People will just have to smile when they think of him,” she said.
At Saturday’s funeral, the words “Can We All Just Get Along” could be seen embroidered on the open lid of his coffin during a pre-funeral service, according to the LA Times.
To be clear, half of that settlement went to King’s lawyers. The rest was frittered away in dubious investments King made, including owning a recording studio. All he really had was his house, located in Rialto, California, and even then, it may not have been paid for. There doesn’t seem to have been life insurance, savings accounts, or stocks. When his business schemes folded, King had to fall back on employment as a sometime laborer and construction worker. His celebrity appearances helped him pay the bills, but only so much. Recently, to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the infamous on-video camera beating, King published his story, The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption (with Lawrence Spagnola) about his personal struggles including and beyond this singular event. It is thought that some financial remuneration was about to be realized from the book’s publication.
While the toxicology report is pending on Rodney King, not a few are speculating on what really happened the night that he died. A few friends—particularly celebrity boxing promoter Damon Feldman, dubbed the “King of the D List” by Philadelphia Magazine and who had worked with King in the past in setting up boxing exhibitions—have encouraged talk that his fiancée, Cynthia Kelley (who served on the jury that awarded King $3.9 million from the City of Los Angeles), may have had a hand in his death. According to these friends, her version of what happened seemed to change with each retelling. They have intimated to the authorities that King had wanted to end the relationship, which had blown hot and cold for the better part of a decade or two, even through marriages to other people. Knowledge of the possibility of a final break may have driven Kelley, who was described to Feldman as “volatile,” to attempt something more sinister in revenge.
Even the fact that King was naked when he was found drowned is thought to be strange and suspicious. Hell, if he had his own pool, King could have jumped into the water wearing a clown suit if he cared. It was dark. He liked swimming at night. Mostly everyone was asleep. No one would see him naked except for Cynthia Kelley, if she happened to be awake. Besides, a lot of people sleep naked. This is nothing. This kind of speculation is grasping at straws.
So far the cops believe that Kelley is telling the truth about what happened, even to the reason why she did not jump into the pool herself to try to rescue him. Cynthia Kelley admitted that she was not as strong a swimmer as King, and she was smaller in height and build. Imagine trying to lift or pull an unconscious or dead waterlogged man over six feet tall and weighing over 200 lbs to the surface, and you are a small woman? A human body is not Styrofoam. Kelley would have nearly died herself. No doubt the survival mechanism kicked in for her. She did the right thing and called 911.
Moreover, the audio of her 911 call to the cops does not appear to have been stagecraft. Everything might change, though, if there is more substantial evidence leading to a conclusion of foul play. Again, the cops are not convinced—or are not saying—that there is. They are still gathering evidence. And frankly, at this moment, I don’t think that Cynthia Kelley was responsible for Rodney King’s death.
Why wasn’t Kelley invited to the funeral, at least to say goodbye to her lover? Everything, I believe, was taken out of her hands. A majority of family members did not want her there for several reasons. Perhaps they did not get along with her, and vice versa. Perhaps they saw her as an interloper and gold-digger. One strong reason, I think, was that Cynthia was not married to Rodney, and therefore was not really family. If you think that attitude is rather wrong, understand that this is how many Witnesses think. According to TMZ, a few family members indicated that they had no real hard feelings against the woman, but that they would rather await the results of the toxicology report before they would even speak to Kelley. However, this does not bode well for any continuing relationships between Kelley and members of the King family. It doesn’t matter whatever happened between the couple, the woman is essentially grieving alone.
It is not known whether Kelley is still living at the Rialto residence, or whether she has moved out or where she might be.
If King had had a lot of money left over in a bank and had even deeded his house to Kelley in a will, I could understand some of this hesitation and standoffish behavior. But King did not have much of anything, and if he did have second thoughts about leaving something to Kelley after he did name her in a will, such information would have surfaced by now.
In short, there has got to have been a motive for Kelley to have done Rodney King in, even at the flash of anger. Even if Kelley had gotten mad at him during a fight, and she had clunked him in the head with a makeshift weapon, the presence of any wounds weeping blood or contusions would have immediately incriminated her, and she would have been in the slammer by now. And it cannot be that the cops are protecting her. I mean, seriously, what would be the payoff if they let her slide?
A neighbor, Sandra Gardea, recalled that she had heard two people—coming from the direction of the King house—talking loudly to each other early that morning. One of them seemed anguished, while the other was trying to coax the sad one into the house. Gardea insisted, however, that the voices were not tinged with anger.
“It’s wasn’t like an argument,” Gardea said. “She was just saying, ‘Get in the house. Get in the house.’”
Gardea, whose open bedroom window faces King’s house, said then there was silence. A few minutes later, Gardea said she heard a splash.
Rialto police said officers arrived at the house about four minutes after the 911 call and immediately dived into the pool and pulled King’s body from the water.
Another neighbor, Dee Schnepf, 58, said she didn’t hear any commotion in King’s backyard that night. Schnepf said she arrived home early Sunday morning and was in her backyard about 3:30 a.m. feeding her cats.
“I didn’t hear a thing, and I would have heard something,” said Schnepf.
Schnepf said it was common for King to take a swim at night or early in the morning, and that “he liked to swim in the dark.”
“He was so sweet. He’d mow our lawns once a week and never asked for any money,” Schnepf said. “He and my ex-husband were real good friends. They’d trade tools back and forth. It’s unbelievable that he’s gone. I feel like he could just walk over at any minute.”
Now, Rodney King loved the water. He built the swimming pool at his home with his own hands. He loved swimming in his pool late at night. He even surfed at one time; he was even interviewed at the beach in a wetsuit with a surfboard under an arm. So it is hard for his family members and friends to believe that he drowned in his own pool—and that suspicion would hang thick as a cloud over his fiancée.
Initially, I thought King may have gotten a reaction from what he was drinking and drugging that weekend, and had gone into some kind of cardiac episode. Meaning, that his death was an accident. However, the body can only take so much abuse. The medical woes of the late Richard Pryor are testament to that. Not just the cops who nearly killed him with their batons and kicks, but Rodney King had punished his body too with drugs and alcohol. He was beginning to enter that time when middle-aged men can have a heart attack or stroke. (His father and aunt died in their forties from the effects of acute alcoholism.) It could be that this is what happened and what the toxicology report will eventually show.
But what is becoming increasingly evident to me, in the absence of a possible assailant or cardiac arrest, is that Rodney King may have taken his own life in a moment of anguish, aided by the substances, if any, in his system. (I leave weed out of this equation, because I have not known of anyone being driven to suicide while on it. Munchie suicide maybe, but not killing one’s self.) I don’t want to think that King did take his life, but it is entirely possible as well.
What could have precipitated a suicide? Perhaps it was the loss of his Rialto home and his beloved pool. Perhaps Cynthia Kelley was going to leave him on her own accord. Perhaps that it was that he could not find peace no matter what he did. There are reasons enough for someone to lose hope.
The Reverend Al Sharpton, looking painfully thin for his appearances on his MSNBC pundit show, presided at the public funeral, which to me was perfectly apt. However, I want to make a distinction: to me, Rodney King was not a civil rights hero in the same vein as Martin King or Malcolm X, or even lower-tier Sixties martyrs like Medgar Evers and the Reverend James Reeb. These were activists who pledged themselves to an ideal. Rather, King symbolized the continuing brutality, torture, physical abuse and legal lynching of blacks (and Latinos) at the hands of police and vigilante types, a state of affairs that continues even today. And if King and the cops had not been videotaped by George Holliday, we would have never known who Rodney King was or had solid proof of how he (and by extension, hundreds of others) was treated.
Indeed, during the early promotion of his book, Rodney King evinced sadness about the death of Trayvon Martin and compared what had happened to them both.
[King] said he’s struck by parallels with the Martin case – in which wannabe cop George Zimmerman shot the unarmed black 17-year-old – but urged restraint.
“When I heard the scream on the 911 call, I heard myself 20 years ago. It sounds like a death scream,” King said. “But it’s a touchy situation. We have to wait for the justice system to take care of this.”
Justice might take longer than our own lifetimes, but for Rodney King, time finally ran out for him. Whether his demise was accidental or deliberate, I hope that in death that he finally has peace.
- Rodney King funeral: beating victim remembered as ‘symbol of forgiveness’ (thegrio.com)
- Rodney King’s Family Needs Burial Money (theroot.com)
- Rodney King remembered as ‘symbol of forgiveness’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Rodney King remembered at funeral (cbsnews.com)