The morning after Rodney King’s death, police officers maintained a presence outside his modest Rialto house, mainly to keep bystanders and reporters at a distance. The house is quiet, its curtains drawn. No visible markers proclaim "this is where Rodney King died"; no candles, flowers or makeshift street memorials.
It apparently reflects the way King whose beating by Los Angeles police in 1991 was captured on videotape preferred to live, under the radar, after circumstance thrust him reluctantly into the spotlight more than 20 years ago.
Over the years, King struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, was arrested several times and went to prison for robbery once. He ended up on the reality TV show "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew."
Thursday April 8, 1999 King pleaded innocent to three misdemeanor counts in a Fontana court. He was released on $6,850 bail in an incident involving the alleged beating of his 16-year-old daughter and her mother. It was his date with the judge that brought King to the men’s department at upscale Nordstrom’s department store in Galleria at Montclair. “He walked in with his cousin, a young female. He said ‘I need a suit for court – I need it in two hours’.”
That’s men’s clothing specialist and renowned neckwear designer Don Griggs. “I recognized Rodney King but we didn’t go into a lot of introduction. I just remember saying to myself – the clock is ticking – we’ve got to select a suit and accessories have him fitted, get the garment tailored and get him out the door in time for his court date,” recalls Griggs, then manager of the store’s men’s department.
“Knowing who he was and what he had gone through I wanted to make sure we selected a garment that was not only appropriate, but one that exuded confidence and dignity – nothing flashy or trendy.”
Griggs said although King looked familiar, his colleagues and patrons in the store didn’t readily identify who he was. As the threesome scrambled to select a suit, Griggs remembers King’s cousin referring to him as Glen – his middle name.
“From then on I called him Glen which made it a lot easier to serve him while preserving his identity. He seemed to appreciate the anonymity,” said Griggs. “We chose a classic gray suit that he liked very much. He seemed so excited, almost childlike. We hurriedly got him in to see the tailor. My message was ‘we needed this done yesterday’.” Meanwhile Griggs and his charges went about selecting accessories. “It just so happens that Nordstrom carried my signature line of Afro-centric silk neckties,” said Griggs.
“We selected a gray-crimson pattern tie along with a crisp white shirt. We got him outfitted and ready to go with time to spare.” “When he emerged from the dressing room he presented an image of sharp but understated,” said Griggs. “He was happy.” “Fitting”, Griggs said for a man bearing the visible and invisible scars of America’s ugly underbelly.
“During my interaction with him, I could tell he had a few struggles – He walked with a limp. At times he had trouble with attention. His cousin wrote out the check for payment, he signed it.” Griggs said his relationship with the famous man known to him as Glen did not end with that 1999 chance meeting.
“Occasionally he would come in the store. If I was busy he would nod and go to my department, sit down read a magazine and wait for me to finish.” He was a patient, humble man of few words. Griggs said. While the two never talked about the police beating, Griggs remembers the poignant moment when King shared his love for what would ironically become the final stage for his life of tragedy, triumph and final tragedy. “He came in the store one day and said ‘Don I need a shirt’. I said where are you going? He said with a big grin, ‘I’m going surfing’.”
Griggs recalls, “I kind of gave him the look. He said ‘come have a look’. Sure enough he had a surfboard strapped to his sport utility vehicle. He was headed to the beach at Dana Point.” He said, “Don, man - when I get out there in those waves – I’m at peace. I’m away from everybody and everything. It’s just me, God and the water. It’s a beautiful thing.”
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