photo sharing and upload picture albums photo forums search pictures popular photos photography help login
Mateo Hevezi | all galleries >> Galleries >> koinews24 > image.jpg
previous | next


O.J. Simpson, Football Star Whose Trial Riveted the Nation, Dies at 76

He ran to football fame and made fortunes in movies. His trial for the murder of his former wife and her friend became an inflection point on race in America.

O.J. Simpson and one of his defense lawyers, Johnnie Cochran, celebrate in 1995 as a not-guilty verdict is read during his trial.Credit...Pool photo by Myung J. Chun

by Robert D. McFadden
April 11, 2024

O.J. Simpson, who ran to fame on the football field, made fortunes as an all-American in movies, television and advertising, and was acquitted of killing his former wife and her friend in a 1995 trial in Los Angeles that mesmerized the nation, died on Wednesday at his home in Las Vegas. He was 76.

The cause was cancer, his family announced on social media.

The jury in the murder trial cleared him, but the case, which had held up a cracked mirror to Black and white America, changed the trajectory of his life. In 1997, a civil suit by the victims’ families found him liable for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman, and ordered him to pay $33.5 million in damages. He paid little of the debt, moved to Florida and struggled to remake his life, raise his children and stay out of trouble.

In 2006, he sold a book manuscript, titled “If I Did It,” and a prospective TV interview, giving a “hypothetical” account of murders he had always denied committing. A public outcry ended both projects, but Mr. Goldman’s family secured the book rights, added material imputing guilt to Mr. Simpson and had it published.

In 2007, he was arrested after he and other men invaded a Las Vegas hotel room of some sports memorabilia dealers and took a trove of collectibles. He claimed that the items had been stolen from him, but a jury in 2008 found him guilty of 12 charges, including armed robbery and kidnapping, after a trial that drew only a smattering of reporters and spectators. He was sentenced to nine to 33 years in a Nevada state prison. He served the minimum term and was released in 2017.

Over the years, the story of O.J. Simpson generated a tide of tell-all books, movies, studies and debate over questions of justice, race relations and celebrity in a nation that adores its heroes, especially those cast in rags-to-riches stereotypes, but that has never been comfortable with its deeper contradictions.

There were many in the Simpson saga. Yellowing old newspaper clippings yield the earliest portraits of a postwar child of poverty afflicted with rickets and forced to wear steel braces on his spindly legs, of a hardscrabble life in a bleak housing project and of hanging with teenage gangs in the tough back streets of San Francisco, where he learned to run.

“Running, man, that’s what I do,” he said in 1975, when he was one of America’s best-known and highest-paid football players, the Buffalo Bills’ electrifying, swivel-hipped ball carrier, known universally as the Juice. “All my life I’ve been a runner.”

And so he had — running to daylight on the gridiron of the University of Southern California and in the roaring stadiums of the National Football League for 11 years; running for Hollywood movie moguls, for Madison Avenue image-makers and for television networks; running to pinnacles of success in sports and entertainment.

Along the way, he broke college and professional records, won the Heisman Trophy and was enshrined in pro football’s Hall of Fame. He appeared in dozens of movies and memorable commercials for Hertz and other clients; was a sports analyst for ABC and NBC; acquired homes, cars and a radiant family; and became an American idol — a handsome warrior with the gentle eyes and soft voice of a nice guy. And he played golf.

It was the good life, on the surface. But there was a deeper, more troubled reality — about an infant daughter drowning in the family pool and a divorce from his high school sweetheart; about his stormy marriage to a stunning young waitress and her frequent calls to the police when he beat her; about the jealous rages.

Calls to the Police

The abuse left Nicole Simpson bruised and terrified on scores of occasions, but the police rarely took substantive action. After one call to the police on New Year’s Day, 1989, officers found her badly beaten and half-naked, hiding in the bushes outside their home. “He’s going to kill me!” she sobbed. Mr. Simpson was arrested and convicted of spousal abuse, but was let off with a fine and probation.

The couple divorced in 1992, but confrontations continued. On Oct. 25, 1993, Ms. Simpson called the police again. “He’s back,” she told a 911 operator, and officers once more intervened.
Then it happened. On June 12, 1994, Ms. Simpson, 35, and Mr. Goldman, 25, were attacked outside her condominium in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, not far from Mr. Simpson’s estate. She was nearly decapitated, and Mr. Goldman was slashed to death.

The knife was never found, but the police discovered a bloody golf glove at the scene and abundant hair, blood and fiber clues. Aware of Mr. Simpson’s earlier abuse and her calls for help, investigators believed from the start that Mr. Simpson, 46, was the killer. They found blood on his car and, in his home, a bloody golf glove that matched the one picked up near the bodies. There was never any other suspect.

Five days later, after Mr. Simpson had attended Nicole’s funeral with their two children, he was charged with the murders, but fled in his white Ford Bronco. With his old friend and teammate Al Cowlings at the wheel and the fugitive in the back holding a gun to his head and threatening suicide, the Bronco led a fleet of patrol cars and news helicopters on a slow 60-mile televised chase over the Southern California freeways.

Networks pre-empted prime-time programming for the spectacle, some of it captured by news cameras in helicopters, and a nationwide audience of 95 million people watched for hours. Overpasses and roadsides were crowded with spectators. The police closed highways and motorists pulled over to watch, some waving and cheering at the passing Bronco, which was not stopped. Mr. Simpson finally returned home and was taken into custody.

The ensuing trial lasted nine months, from January to early October 1995, and captivated the nation with its lurid accounts of the murders and the tactics and strategy of prosecutors and of a defense that included the “dream team” of Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., F. Lee Bailey, Alan M. Dershowitz, Barry Scheck and Robert L. Shapiro.

The prosecution, led by Marcia Clark and Christopher A. Darden, had what seemed to be overwhelming evidence: tests showing that blood, shoe prints, hair strands, shirt fibers, carpet threads and other items found at the murder scene had come from Mr. Simpson or his home, and DNA tests showing that the bloody golf glove found at Mr. Simpson’s home matched the one left at the crime scene. Prosecutors also had a list of 62 incidents of abusive behavior by Mr. Simpson against his wife.

But as the trial unfolded before Judge Lance Ito and a 12-member jury that included 10 Black people, it became apparent that the police inquiry had been flawed. Photo evidence had been lost or mislabeled; DNA had been collected and stored improperly, raising a possibility that it was tainted. And Detective Mark Fuhrman, a key witness, admitted that he had entered the Simpson home and found the matching glove and other crucial evidence — all without a search warrant.

‘If the Glove Don’t Fit’

The defense argued, but never proved, that Mr. Fuhrman planted the second glove. More damaging, however, was its attack on his history of racist remarks. Mr. Fuhrman swore that he had not used racist language for a decade. But four witnesses and a taped radio interview played for the jury contradicted him and undermined his credibility. (After the trial, Mr. Fuhrman pleaded no contest to a perjury charge. He was the only person convicted in the case.)

In what was seen as the crucial blunder of the trial, the prosecution asked Mr. Simpson, who was not called to testify, to try on the golf gloves. He struggled to do so. They were apparently too small.

“If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit,” Mr. Cochran told the jury later.

In the end, it was the defense that had the overwhelming case, with many grounds for reasonable doubt, the standard for acquittal. But it wanted more. It portrayed the Los Angeles police as racist, charged that a Black man was being railroaded, and urged the jury to think beyond guilt or innocence and send a message to a racist society.

On the day of the verdict, autograph hounds, T-shirt vendors, street preachers and paparazzi engulfed the courthouse steps. After what some news media outlets had called “The Trial of the Century,” producing 126 witnesses, 1,105 items of evidence and 45,000 pages of transcripts, the jury — sequestered for 266 days, longer than any in California history — deliberated for only three hours.

Much of America came to a standstill. In homes, offices, airports and malls, people paused to watch. Even President Bill Clinton left the Oval Office to join his secretaries. In court, cries of “Yes!” and “Oh, no!” were echoed across the nation as the verdict left many Black people jubilant and many white people aghast.

In the aftermath, Mr. Simpson and the case became the grist for television specials, films and more than 30 books, many by participants who made millions. Mr. Simpson, with Lawrence Schiller, produced “I Want to Tell You,” a thin mosaic volume of letters, photographs and self-justifying commentary that sold hundreds of thousands of copies and earned Mr. Simpson more than $1 million.

He was released after 474 days in custody, but his ordeal was hardly over. Much of the case was resurrected for the civil suit by the Goldman and Brown families. A predominantly white jury with a looser standard of proof held Mr. Simpson culpable and awarded the families $33.5 million in damages. The civil case, which excluded racial issues as inflammatory and speculative, was a vindication of sorts for the families and a blow to Mr. Simpson, who insisted that he had no chance of ever paying the damages.

Mr. Simpson had spent large sums for his criminal defense. Records submitted in the murder trial showed his net worth at about $11 million, and people with knowledge of the case said he had only $3.5 million afterward. A 1999 auction of his Heisman Trophy and other memorabilia netted about $500,000, which went to the plaintiffs. But court records show he paid little of the balance that was owed.

He regained custody of the children he had with Ms. Simpson, and in 2000 he moved to Florida, bought a home south of Miami and settled into a quiet life, playing golf and living on pensions from the N.F.L., the Screen Actors Guild and other sources, about $400,000 a year. Florida laws protect a home and pension income from seizure to satisfy court judgments.

The glamour and lucrative contracts were gone, but Mr. Simpson sent his two children to prep school and college. He was seen in restaurants and malls, where he readily obliged requests for autographs. He was fined once for powerboat speeding in a manatee zone, and once for pirating cable television signals.

In 2006, as the debt to the murder victims’ families grew with interest to $38 million, he was sued by Fred Goldman, the father of Ronald Goldman, who contended that his book and television deal for “If I Did It” had advanced him $1 million and that it had been structured to cheat the family of the damages owed.

The projects were scrapped by News Corporation, parent of the publisher HarperCollins and the Fox Television Network, and a corporation spokesman said Mr. Simpson was not expected to repay an $800,000 advance. The Goldman family secured the book rights from a trustee after a bankruptcy court proceeding and had it published in 2007 under the title “If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer.” On the book’s cover, the “If” appeared in tiny type, and the “I Did It” in large red letters.

Another Trial, and Prison

After years in which it seemed he had been convicted in the court of public opinion, Mr. Simpson in 2008 again faced a jury. This time he was accused of raiding a Las Vegas hotel room in 2007 with five other men, most of them convicted criminals and two armed with guns, to steal a trove of sports memorabilia from a pair of collectible dealers.

Mr. Simpson on the opening day of his trial in 2008 in Las Vegas. He was found guilty of invading a hotel room there and stealing a trove of sports memorabilia.Credit...Pool photo by Jae Hong
Mr. Simpson claimed that he was only trying to retrieve items stolen from him, including eight footballs, two plaques and a photo of him with the F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover, and that he had not known about any guns. But four men, who had been arrested with him and pleaded guilty, testified against him, two saying they had carried guns at his request. Prosecutors also played hours of tapes secretly recorded by a co-conspirator detailing the planning and execution of the crime.

On Oct. 3 — 13 years to the day after his acquittal in Los Angeles — a jury of nine women and three men found him guilty of armed robbery, kidnapping, assault, conspiracy, coercion and other charges. After Mr. Simpson was sentenced to a minimum of nine years in prison, his lawyer vowed to appeal, noting that none of the jurors were Black and questioning whether they could be fair to Mr. Simpson after what had happened years earlier. But jurors said the double-murder case was never mentioned in deliberations.

In 2013, the Nevada Parole Board, citing his positive conduct in prison and participation in inmate programs, granted Mr. Simpson parole on several charges related to his robbery conviction. But the board left other verdicts in place. His bid for a new trial was rejected by a Nevada judge, and legal experts said that appeals were unlikely to succeed. He remained in custody until Oct. 1, 2017, when the parole board unanimously granted him parole when he became eligible.

Mr. Simpson returned to Florida, although certain conditions of his parole — travel restrictions, no contacts with co-defendants in the robbery case and no drinking to excess — remained until 2021, when they were lifted, making him a completely free man.

Questions about his guilt or innocence in the murders of his former wife and Mr. Goldman never went away. In May 2008, Mike Gilbert, a memorabilia dealer and former crony, said in a book that Mr. Simpson, high on marijuana, had admitted the killings to him after the trial. Mr. Gilbert quoted Mr. Simpson as saying that he had carried no knife but that he had used one that Ms. Simpson had in her hand when she opened the door. He also said that Mr. Simpson had stopped taking arthritis medicine to let his hands swell so that they would not fit the gloves in court. Mr. Simpson’s lawyer, Yale L. Galanter, denied Mr. Gilbert’s claims, calling him delusional.

In 2016, more than 20 years after his murder trial, the story of O.J. Simpson was told twice more for endlessly fascinated mass audiences on television. “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” Ryan Murphy’s installment in the “American Crime Story” anthology on FX, focused on the trial itself and on the constellation of characters brought together by the defendant (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.). “O.J.: Made in America,” a five-part, nearly eight-hour installment in ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series (it was also released in theaters), detailed the trial but extended the narrative to include a biography of Mr. Simpson and an examination of race, fame, sports and Los Angeles over the previous half-century.

A.O. Scott, in a commentary in The New York Times, called “The People v. O.J. Simpson” a “tightly packed, almost indecently entertaining piece of pop realism, a Dreiser novel infused with the spirit of Tom Wolfe” and said “O.J.: Made in America” had “the grandeur and authority of the best long-form fiction.”

In Leg Braces as a Child

Orenthal James Simpson was born in San Francisco on July 9, 1947, one of four children of James and Eunice (Durden) Simpson. As an infant afflicted with the calcium deficiency rickets, he wore leg braces for several years but outgrew his disability. His father, a janitor and cook, left the family when the child was 4, and his mother, a hospital nurse’s aide, raised the children in a housing project in the tough Potrero Hill district.

As a teenager, Mr. Simpson, who hated the name Orenthal and called himself O.J., ran with street gangs. But at 15 he was introduced by a friend to Willie Mays, the renowned San Francisco Giants outfielder. The encounter was inspirational and turned his life around, Mr. Simpson recalled. He joined the Galileo High School football team and won All-City honors in his senior year.
In 1967, Mr. Simpson married his high school sweetheart, Marguerite Whitley. The couple had three children, Arnelle, Jason and Aaren. Shortly after their divorce in 1979, Aaren, 23 months old, fell into a swimming pool at home and died a week later.

Mr. Simpson married Nicole Brown in 1985; the couple had a daughter, Sydney, and a son, Justin. He is survived by Arnelle, Jason, Sydney and Justin Simpson and three grandchildren, his lawyer, Malcolm P. LaVergne, said.

After being released from prison in Nevada in 2017, Mr. Simpson moved into the Las Vegas country club home of a wealthy friend, James Barnett, for what he assumed would be a temporary stay. But he found himself enjoying the local golf scene and making friends, sometimes with people who introduced themselves to him at restaurants, Mr. LaVergne said. Mr. Simpson decided to remain in Las Vegas full time. At his death, he lived right on the course of the Rhodes Ranch Golf Club.

Mr. Simpson was a natural on the gridiron. He had dazzling speed, power and finesse in a broken field that made him hard to catch, let alone tackle. He began his collegiate career at San Francisco City College, scoring 54 touchdowns in two years. In his third year he transferred to Southern Cal, where he shattered records — rushing for 3,423 yards and 36 touchdowns in 22 games — and led the Trojans into the Rose Bowl in successive years. He won the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best college football player of 1968. Some magazines called him the greatest running back in the history of the college game.

His professional career was even more illustrious, though it took time to get going. The No. 1 draft pick in 1969, Mr. Simpson went to the Buffalo Bills — the league’s worst team had the first pick — and was used sparingly in his rookie season; in his second, he was sidelined with a knee injury. But by 1971, behind a line known as the Electric Company because they “turned on the Juice,” he began breaking games open.

In 1973, Mr. Simpson became the first to rush for over 2,000 yards, breaking a record held by Jim Brown, and was named the N.F.L.’s most valuable player. In 1975, he led the American Football Conference in rushing and scoring. After nine seasons, he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers, his hometown team, and played his last two years with them. He retired in 1979 as the highest-paid player in the league, with a salary over $800,000, having scored 61 touchdowns and rushed for more than 11,000 yards in his career. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.

Mr. Simpson’s work as a network sports analyst overlapped with his football years. He was a color commentator for ABC from 1969 to 1977, and for NBC from 1978 to 1982. He rejoined ABC on “Monday Night Football” from 1983 to 1986.

Actor and Pitchman

And he had a parallel acting career. He appeared in some 30 films as well as television productions, including the mini-series “Roots” (1977) and the movies “The Towering Inferno” (1974), “Killer Force” (1976), “Cassandra Crossing” (1976), “Capricorn One” (1977), “Firepower” (1979) and others, including the comedy “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad” (1988) and its two sequels.

He did not pretend to be a serious actor. “I’m a realist,” he said. “No matter how many acting lessons I took, the public just wouldn’t buy me as Othello.”

Mr. Simpson was a congenial celebrity. He talked freely to reporters and fans, signed autographs, posed for pictures with children and was self-effacing in interviews, crediting his teammates and coaches, who clearly liked him. In an era of Black power displays, his only militancy was to crack heads on the gridiron.

His smiling, racially neutral image, easygoing manner and almost universal acceptance made him a perfect candidate for endorsements. Even before joining the N.F.L., he signed deals, including a three-year, $250,000 contract with Chevrolet. He later endorsed sporting goods, soft drinks, razor blades and other products.

In 1975, Hertz made him the first Black star of a national television advertising campaign. Memorable long-running commercials depicted him sprinting through airports and leaping over counters to get to a Hertz rental car. He earned millions, Hertz rentals shot up and the ads made O.J.’s face one of the most recognizable in America.

Mr. Simpson, in a way, wrote his own farewell on the day of his arrest. As he rode in the Bronco with a gun to his head, a friend, Robert Kardashian, released a handwritten letter to the public that he had left at home, expressing love for Ms. Simpson and denying that he killed her. “Don’t feel sorry for me,” he wrote. “I’ve had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person.”

other sizes: small medium original auto