LOS ANGELES (CBSLA)  — David Rothenberg, who as a boy was severely burned by his father in a custody dispute, has died. He was 42.

Residents of Southern California will remember Rothenberg and the scars he bravely wore after his own father lit him on fire.

In 1983, his father had flown with David from New York to Orange County during a bitter custody fight with David’s mother.

He promised his son he was taking him to all the theme parks — instead, he locked him in a Buena Park motel room, poured lighter fluid (some reports said kerosene) on him and set him on fire.

David survived the horrible attack despite being burned on 90 percent of his body.

The story was captured in the ABC-TV movie “David” in 1988. The movie was based on a book written by David’s mother.

Rothenberg later became close friends with Michael Jackson and spoke at the King of Pop’s funeral.

David became an artist and was professionally known as “Dave Dave”.  He was living in Las Vegas at the time of his death.

The Associated Press said Rothenberg died on July 15 at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, according to the Clark County Coroner.

Rothenberg always said the horrific attack didn’t hold him back.

“There is a lot that happens in people’s lives, but that doesn’t define them as a human being, it makes them stronger,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal two years ago.

No cause of death was given. A man calling himself a good friend on Instagram said he died of heat exhaustion.

The Associated Press reported that David’s father — Charles Rothenberg — spent less than seven years of a 13-year sentence behind bars for the attempted murder.

After his release, Rothenberg committed other crimes, including robbery,  and was sentenced to 25 years to life in 2007.

Comments (7)
  1. Janice Ohlson Husak says:

    RIP David.
    Rot in hell Charles Rothenberg.

  2. Fran Rabin Merar says:

    Why wasn’t Charles Rothenberg set to prison for live for what he did. I hope the other inmates give him what he deserves.

    1. Julie Swenson says:

      Ridiculously, that was the maximum sentence available at the time, though I can’t seem to find the reason why he only served roughly half of it. Probably something idiotic like ‘good behavior’. I do know that people were, naturally, enraged at the light sentence and paved the way for stricter laws for these crimes, and I believe also contributed to CA implementing the 3 Strikes law, though I might be wrong on that. At least he’s in prison for life now. Hopefully he’ll be dead soon.

  3. Vanessa Thomas says:

    This person–NOT a “father” received ONLY 13 years for nearly burning a CHILD–his child to death, AND only served less than 7 years! Yet he commits robbery and “other crimes” and received 25-Life… Really! Human life (and suffering) obviously doesn’t mean much to the judicial system. I’m glad he was able to enjoy the remaining years of his life in a positive way. But, I’m sure his injuries contributed to his death.

  4. Sydney Wellington says:

    I Vanessa, disagree, respectfully, as i have a sister (RN) who has prior also worked with victims all ages, younger under 50’s.
    and older past sixties and many she has seen make a “full”recovery, with scars but also through graphs etc., barely notice, on many survivors,and the few she knew personally/became close with who had passed on RIP, diff ages, etc., that it did not lead to the deaths of the few she had personally befriend…Either way, forties is older sure, but not old, and i wish he lived another forty or thirty five or longer years, rip to him so sad, rip sweet young man, you’re never going to be forgotten and its awesome how he did NOT let it define him. BAD KARMA did hit “the sperm donor, not father not a dad,”but the sperm jerk because bad karma has gotten the sperm donor in prison this time for life or a LONG long time as he grow old in prison so that make me smile.
    RIP DAVE DAVE. i HAVE NO DOUBT, GOD has his arms around you and you’re rip as still livin thru those who truly care/love u,hence condolences to ur loving mother,family who truly care and loved u and “true friends.”You’re at peace, now.Never forgotten.

    1. Lisa Causey says:

      It seems to me that heat exhaustion could be exacerbated by the skin’s inability to sweat in areas where scarring occurred, so it is quite possible that his “sperm donor” did contribute to his death. Las Vegas has triple digit heat in the summer. It is really sad that he passed away, may David rest in peace. He was and will continue to be an inspiration to all.

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