Family, friends, a host of civil rights leaders and celebrities attended a memorial service for the late Rodney King today, two weeks after he died of an apparent accidental drowning at his home in Rialto.
The service, which was held Hall of Liberty on the grounds of Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills. About a third of the hall's 1,200 seats were full.
Those who knew King best painted a picture of a sometimes troubled but good man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. King catapulted into public consciousness after his videotaped beating at the hands of LA police officers was broadcast worldwide. He became a poster child for police misconduct, but also a catalyst for change inside the LAPD.
His daughter, Laura Dene King, 28, spoke outside the hall, and told reporters that her father was a "gentle giant."
“He was a great person, great father, great grandfather. Husband, friend, everything, everybody who interacted with him," he said. "It’s just said that some people don’t know him and judge by what they see in the media. Those of us that knew him, you just have to smile.”
King's lawyer, Steve Lerman, said he knew King as "Glen," and that King gave him faith that things could be better, despite never being sure about being a public figure.
The reverend Al Sharpton eulogized King. He said he last saw King over a month ago, when King appeared on his radio show in New York City.
King brought people together, Sharpton said. King was a father and a loving man with a beautiful smile, he said.
"He showed us how to rise above pain without showing bitterness or divisiveness," he said.
Sharpton says he was cautioned by King’s relatives to focus on the man, and not the events that thrust him into the public eye. Sharpton conceded that it was important to try and separate the man, from what he reluctantly came to symbolize.
”To us he was a symbol. To them he was their father, their son, their friend and we are here to give our condolences and to stand with them because they lost someone they knew and shared life with," he said. "Rodney was a healer and I hope the nation continues to heal remembering what Rodney King taught us.”
Los Angeles police chief Charlie Beck spoke to Patt Morrison earlier this week, and shared his memories of King and how he changed Beck's department.
“I believe what happened to Rodney King, no I don’t believe, I know, forever changed the city and changed the Los Angeles police department. And my belief is it changed the police department, in particular, in a positive way.”
Donors chipped in to help pay for the service through a fund at Bank of America, and most of the service had been paid for, said a family spokesperson.
Many of King’s relatives are devout Jehovah’s Witnesses and may hold a separate memorial at a later date.
King’s videotaped beating at the hands of L.A. police officers 21 years ago turned him into a reluctant symbol of police misconduct. The officer’s acquittal sparked a week of deadly riots across Los Angeles. King later won a $3.8 million civil lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles. He moved to Rialto more than ten years ago.
Results of an autopsy and toxicology tests are expected to be released next month.