He seemed a man still deeply haunted by the past and the expectations of him. He said he suffered nightmares and flashbacks from the beating. He smoked marijuana and drank. He was always trying to calm his raw nerves, swimming in his pool, fishing in a nearby lake with worms he dug from his yard. The water had always been a refuge for him.
"I sometimes feel like I'm caught in a vise," he said. "Some people feel like I'm some kind of hero. Others hate me. They say I deserved it. Other people, I can hear them mocking me for when I called for an end to the destruction, like I'm a fool for believing in peace."
He was more contemplative than he had been before. And the man who just wanted to escape to that park his father took him to was beginning to accept his broader legacy.
"Yes, I would go through that night, yes I would. I said once that I wouldn't, but that's not true. It changed things. It made the world a better place."
Civil rights attorney Connie Rice saw King a few weeks ago at an event.
"I've never seen him look less broken. He looked happy, and it looked for the first time like he had really kicked his addiction. I know that police love to talk about the fact that he was a criminal. But he was not a criminal. He was a broken and sick man, but did his best not to hurt people. He had a real streak of decency.
"He could have poured gasoline on the fire. At a time when he could have said something destructive … he said 'Can we all get along?' When you think about it, there aren't a whole lot of guys I know that would have done that."
Times staff writers Kurt Streeter, Andrew Blankstein, Kate Mather and Matt Stevens contributed to this story.