A man left severely scarred when set afire as a boy by his father at a Buena Park motel more than three decades ago died last month at the age of 42, it was reported Thursday.
An accomplished contemporary conceptual artist, Dave Dave — David Rothenberg until casting aside his father’s last name — was left with life-long scars from his father’s attempt on his life in 1983. But friends say despite the betrayal and violence in his childhood, Dave was a peaceful, empathetic and loyal man who drew confidants from all walks of life. He went on to befriend Michael Jackson and become a respected Las Vegas artist.
“To have gone through what he had gone through as a child at the hands of his father, and to lead a life as rich as he did and as creative and as caring and as giving as he did, I think is amazing,” said Mike Watkiss, a longtime friend of Dave’ family who spoke on behalf of his mother, Marie, the Orange County Register reported.
Rothenberg was doused with kerosene and set ablaze by his father when he was six in 1983. In interviews over the years, Dave described himself as a survivor, not a victim.
“There is a lot that happens in people’ lives, but that doesn’t define them as a human being, it makes them stronger,” Dave told a Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter in 2016.
A representative of the Clark County Coroner’s Office on Wednesday confirmed that Dave died on July 15 at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas. The coroner representative said the cause of his death could take up to six to eight weeks to determine.
In 1983, Dave’ father, Charles Rothenberg, took the then-6-year-old on a trip to Southern California from New York, where the boy was living with his mother. The couple was locked in a bitter custody dispute, and Rothenberg had taken his son on vacation with the promise of visiting Orange County theme parks. After a phone argument with his estranged wife, the father gave his son a sleeping pill, set him aflame and then walked out of the room, leaving other motel guests to drag the boy from the inferno.
Rothenberg told authorities that he believed he was going to lose custody of his son, who suffered third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body. The burns and repeated skin grafts left him with life-long scars on his hands, face and legs.
Many were stunned when Rothenberg was sentenced to only 13 years in prison, the maximum allowed at the time. He served less than seven years before being paroled. The relatively light sentence helped pave the way for stricter sentencing guidelines.
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