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Rodney King and television: A life in media events both tragic and sad

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Rodney King has died; he was 47. King’s 1991 beating by Los Angeles police officers was a remarkable media moment, one of the first, most significant instances of amateur video going viral to expose a moment that might otherwise have passed unnoticed.

There are people who have already commented on the EW.com post reporting King’s death, complaining that this is an “entertainment website” and that this is “not entertainment news.” Yet King’s story was very much a television story. It was the footage broadcast on TV news that brought King’s plight to national attention:

In 1992, the acquittal of four police officers in the King case sparked riots in Los Angeles.

It was King’s televised plea to his city and the world, an attempt to try and calm the outrage that sparked another media moment:

Finally, King got involved in the media world in another way, a way that is a sad modern trend. King had his troubles with substance abuse. He was also not unlike many another civilian caught up, eventually, in reality-TV. Here’s how The Hollywood Reporter sub-headed its coverage of King’s death today: “The Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew star, best known as the victim of police brutality in 1991 that spurred the Los Angeles riots, was found dead at his home Sunday morning.”

In the end, it’s sad that, to some, Rodney King is “The Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew star.” I’m not going to include a clip from Celebrity Rehab. But that’s one reason this is “an entertainment story”: America turns everything it can into entertainment; it’s just that some stories are more poignant, and more complicated, than others.

Twitter: @kentucker

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