After a rough childhood, and battling drug and alcohol addictions, Ron King beat the odds to become a driven, successful media executive. But his job was eventually cut and when the pandemic hit, King felt lost.
What happened next was completely unexpected.
King found himself and created a new purpose-driven life saving donkeys. He created the nonprofit Oscar's Place on a 75-acre ranch dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of donkeys in Hopland, California.
Now, five months after "CBS Mornings" lead national correspondent David Begnaud, he decided to check in with King again for the "CBS Mornings" series "How Are You Now?"
"Things are going great," King said in a recent interview. "We have been flooded with donations and volunteers and adoptions. So it's been super busy and super fun."
King's life in the ranch is a far cry from his pre-pandemic life: attired in Gucci, shuttling between New York and Los Angeles as a senior vice president for Time Inc., where he managed sales and marketing for well-known brands. He told Begnaud earlier this year that he realized he had "made it" when he flew first-class to Milan to sit front row at a Versace fashion show.
But in 2018, the sale of Time Inc. led to the elimination of King's position. He freelanced afterwards, but once COVID-19 hit, the work dried up and the despair set in.
Then came a call from an old friend, prominent pop art dealer Phil Selway — who hired King to move to his ranch and sell it because it wasn't being used.
"I thought it would be a win-win. He could help me tremendously, and it would help him, give him another project," Selway said.
King took the job and realized he found a new sense of calm on the property.
"My head is always like a snow globe that's being shook. It never stops," King said. "That sense of sort of chaos in my head was just normal for me. When the snow globe stops after 20 years, you feel that.
"I had no thoughts in my head except this beautiful surrounding. And I realized this is the first time I felt serenity in 20 years," he said.
Well, serenity met serendipity. King discovered a story about the plight of donkeys, known historically as strong pack animals capable of hauling goods. But they've outlived their usefulness. So donkeys, which can live around 30 years, are sold at auction, slaughtered and skinned for their hides, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
So he asked Selway if he could take the ranch off the market and let King turn it into a donkey sanctuary.
"The first thing I thought when Ron was giving his presentation was that he was crazy and I would be crazy to go along with this," Selway said. "It's absolutely blown me away and I could not be happier."
Donations support their cause. Without them, every donkey on the ranch would have been killed.
"The only way to help a donkey that has been abused emotionally recover is to love it back to health," King said. "And I had this moment where I realized that there is a difference between things that I enjoy and things that bring me joy.
"I was 52 years old when I realized those were two different things. It's a whole different way of living," he said.
In helping donkeys heal, King may be healing his own invisible scars. The son of a Southern Baptist preacher, King's struggles began at an early age when he realized he was gay.
"They were young and they were religious and they had a little sissy boy, so that didn't go well," he said of his parents. "All I've really wanted all along was to matter."
By his 20s, King was homeless and addicted to alcohol and drugs. He got sober only after surviving an overdose.
Understanding the power of resilience, King said he helps to rebuild the donkeys' strength and trust so they're ready for adoption.
After the story originally aired on "CBS Mornings," a surge in donations helped King build five new pens for quarantining animals when they arrive to protect the health of the herd.
"Do you still feel like what you are doing matters?" Begnaud asked him.
"What I've really realized is, as long as we stay true to what we're doing and why we're doing it, that that mattering starts to amplify," King said. "And then we now have 91 volunteers. All of our volunteers share how much they feel like they matter."
And his vulnerability struck a chord. He was invited to share his story with a group of medical professionals who help troubled teens.
"I really spoke about the different ways in which teens could feel like they matter, why mattering is of such importance," King said. "As you know, I was a struggling teen, so that was really meaningful to me.
"It's never too late for a new start and chasing joy," he said. "It's amplified out to literally thousands of people. And once that happens, you really feel like you're making a difference."
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