Rodney King, whose beating by police in 1992 sparked the LA race riots, was found dead in his swimming pool early Sunday, authorities said. He was 47.
Rialto Police Captain Randy Deanda told AFP King was found "unresponsive" at the bottom of his pool after a call from his fiancee and was pronounced dead at a local medical center shortly afterward at 6:11 am (1311 GMT).
"Preliminarily, there do not appear to be any signs of foul play," Deanda added, noting that police were conducting a drowning investigation and that the coroner's office would perform an autopsy.
King became a symbol of racial tensions in America following his beating by baton-wielding LA police after a high-speed car chase was caught on camera.
He was severely beaten by four white police officers who struck him more than 50 times with their wooden batons and used a stun gun.
Four officers involved went on trial for use of excessive force but were acquitted on April 29, 1992, triggering days of deadly rioting in Los Angeles that left more than 50 people dead and caused around one billion dollars in damage.
Speaking ahead of the 20th anniversary of the riots, King said racism still has to be challenged.
"There's always gonna be some type of racism. But it's up to us as individuals in this country to look back and see all the accomplishments that we have gotten to this far," he told CNN.
Asked about his feelings toward the police officers who beat him, he said: "I have forgiven (them), because America has forgiven me for so many things and given me so many chances.
"You get to have a second chance, and I've been given a second chance," said King, who has had a number of brushes with the law since 1992.
"I have much respect for (the police), much respect... some of them went out of their way over the years to try to make it up to me. Not all of them is bad."
In an earlier CNN interview, King recalled that he had been drinking despite being on parole after a 1991 robbery conviction and was headed home from a friend's house when he saw a police car was following him and panicked, worried he would be sent back to jail.
So he tried to flee by car but tried to park in a public place when he realized police officers were catching up with him.
"I saw all those apartments over there, so I said, 'I'm gonna stop right there,'" he said. "'If it goes down, somebody will see it.'"
King said as the officers beat him, they yelled, "We are going to kill you, nigger," although police later denied using racial slurs.
Since the events that catapulted him into the spotlight, King has had several brushes with the law.
He was arrested in 2005 for making threats to kill his daughter and his daughter's mother after the two women got into an argument with his then-girlfriend.
He was also arrested in 2003 for allegedly punching a girlfriend. He had also pleaded guilty to reckless driving after crashing into a house with his car.
In November 2007, he was treated in hospital after an incident in which he was shot and wounded in the face, back and upper torso, in the Los Angeles suburb of San Bernardino.