We saw his face a bloody, pulpy mess. And in 1992, when the four Los Angeles Police officers who beat him after a traffic stop were acquitted, it touched off anger that affected an entire generation. Now, 20 years later, this is the face of Rodney King, and this is what has happened to him in the interim.
He's been a record company executive and a reality TV star among many other things.
To millions of Americans, though, he will always be either a victim of one of the most horrific cases of police brutality ever videotaped or just a hooligan who didn't stop when police attempted to pull him over.
He's indisputably the black motorist whose beating on a darkened LA street led to one of the worst race riots in American history.
It's been an up-and-down ride for King since he went on television at the height of those riots and pleaded in a quavering voice, "Can we all get along?"
He's been arrested numerous times, mostly for alcohol-related crimes. In a recent interview with The Associated Press he said, "I still sip, I don't get drunk."
He has been to a number of rehab programs, he said, including the 2008 appearance on "Dr. Drew" Pinsky's "Celebrity Rehab" program.
Still, he was arrested again just last year for driving under the influence.
It was his fear of being stopped for drunken driving on March 3, 1991, King said, that initially led him to try to evade police who attempted to pull him over for speeding.
After he did stop, four LA police officers hit him more than 50 times with their batons, kicked him and shot him with stun guns. A man who had quietly stepped outside his home to observe the commotion videotaped most of it and turned a copy over to a local TV station.
After a jury with no black members acquitted the officers on April 29, 1992, the city's black community exploded in rage. Fifty-five people died, more than 2,000 were injured over three days.
King received a $3.8 million settlement from the city, but said he lost most it to bad investments, among them a hip-hop record label he founded that quickly went broke.
He makes money these days taking part in events like celebrity boxing matches. He's also promoting his just-published memoir, "The Riot Within: My Journey From Rebellion to Redemption."
A tall, physically imposing man who is disarmingly friendly, self-effacing and soft-spoken, King, 47, maintains he is happy.
"America's been good to me after I paid the price and stayed alive through it all," he says. "This part of my life is the easy part now."