Simpson Murders at 25: Remembering Ron, Nicole and the Simpson Circus
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.
When Los Angeles awoke the morning of June 13, 1994 the City of Angels had no idea the circus was about to arrive in town.
All we knew is there had been a brutal double murder in Brentwood the night before — 25 years ago today. The murder alone was shocking. Brentwood? This wasn’t South Central. This was Brentwood. You live in Brentwood if you don’t feel like slumming it in Beverly Hills. Unhealthy people don’t die in Brentwood … unless it’s from a plastic surgery gone awry. But now, a bloody double murder?
Then a celebrity angle: One of the victims was Nicole Brown Simpson, the ex-wife of beloved sports and entertainment icon O.J. Simpson. Initial reports had him in Chicago at the time of the murders, and now on his way back to Los Angeles. “Oh, man. Poor guy.”
The other victim? Not a celebrity. Someone named Ron Goldman of Agoura Hills. “A waiter, did someone say?”
Given all that’s happened since that night, it’s hard to remember O.J. Simpson as he was in public psyche June 12, 1994. Like Madonna or Pele or Liza, he didn’t need a last name. In fact, all he needed was two initials: O.J. Everyone knew O.J. Everyone knew “The Juice.” He was one of the most magical players the NFL ever produced, a Hall of Fame running back who glided down the field and around tacklers with such grace you might think he was wearing ice skates, not cleats. He played a brutal game with beauty, more Fred Astaire than Fred Flintstone.
Off the field, O.J. offered an enormous smile and immense charm. A natural for advertising. Even those who didn’t know a running back from running water, got to know The Juice. Most famously, in a very long-running series of commercials for Hertz. He was the guy running through airports, jumping over luggage.
“You know it!” After retiring, he was the handsome sportscaster, covering games for NBC. He even got into movies, most notably as the much-suffering Detective Nordberg in the classic comedy, The Naked Gun.
Few knew in June of 1994, O.J. had completed his final film: Frogmen. Simpson played a Navy SEAL. In preparation for the role, he was given extensive training in knives.
The Suspect, The Chase
My first hint Simpson may have used his deadly knife skills on Ron and Nichole is when it turned out he had only flown to Chicago the night before. Newscasters also started talking up his history of violence against Nicole. Still, the guy had 25 years of public goodwill in his account. It wasn’t going to be that easy to believe him a murderer.
Then came the evidence: Police had go to Simpson’s to inform him of his ex-wife’s death. They didn’t find OJ, but did find a trail of blood leading from the crime scene to his car to his home. They also found bloody glove at Simpson’s mansion matching the one found near Goldman’s body. They initially thought he may have been a victim too. Initially.
Simpson arrived back in L.A. The televised scene of Simpson briefly being handcuffed signaled the situation with the football great was no game. Say it ain’t so. “C’mon, this is The Juice.”
All that changed on the morning of June 17. O.J. was going to be charged with two counts of murder. When you’re O.J. Simpson and you are in star-struck Los Angeles, you get to turn yourself in — even if you are accused of butchering two humans.
I remember having the TV on. L.A. stations, of course, were all broadcasting live. But the schedule seemed to be pushing later and later. And then one of the most dramatic moments in TV history. LAPD commander David Gaston stepped before the media.
Simpson had not turned himself in as agreed. A seething Gascon snarled, “The Los Angeles Police Department as of right now, is actively searching for Mr. Simpson.” I’ll never the collective gasp of the media. The Juice was on the run. A fugitive. “He is a wanted murder suspect and we will go find him.”
“Who would have thought it would come to this, with this man who was so beloved in this country for so long?” said NBC’s Tom Brokaw.
The drama continued ratcheting up that day. Riveting. Before long, the entire nation was tuned in. Lawyer Robert Shapiro stepped up to another set of cameras to explain what went wrong. Then a crestfallen Robert Kardashian — yes, of those Kardashians — read a suicide note left behind by Simpson. He would beg his longtime friend to surrender.
Simpson was eventually spotted, riding in the back of pal Al Cowling’s white Bronco on an L.A. freeway with a gun to his head. That was the deal clincher. If I’m an innocent man being accused of murdering the mother of my children I’m not putting a gun to my head, I’m putting a gun to the head (figuratively) of the lead detective, “Find who did this!”
The now-legendary “Bronco Chase” would go on for what seemed like hours. Surreal is the only word. On one hand we were witnessing one of the most cherished figures in America, knowing he was likely guilty of a unspeakably violent crime, but still praying, “Please, God, don’t let him end like this.” Nobody wanted him to die on that freeway. “Everybody loves you, please don’t do this!” pleaded the detective charged with bringing him in. (Simpson’s lawyers would soon claim him to be a racist out to frame a black star.)
Yet as this life-or-death drama was playing out, hundreds, thousands of people were rushing to overpasses to cheer Simpson on as he rolled up the 405 freeway. Cheering as if he was back at the L.A. Coliseum streaking down the sidelines in his USC Trojan uniform.
What started out as a double-murder in less than five days had become entertainment.
The Twisted Circus
As a syndicated topical humor writer I touched gingerly on the case at first, taking pains to focus on the emerging circus and not the crime. Still, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times lambasted me and a few others for making light in the face of the tragedy. Within a few weeks he was doing the same.
How could you not? This was the first massive celebrity criminal case of the 24/7 cable news era. Each day, the cast of characters grew more colorful, the coverage more crazed. The airhead houseguest Kato Kaelin, drug-loving Nicole pal Faye Resnick, the ever-loyal former teammate Al Cowling, cop pal Ron Shipp, OJ’s laundry list of celebrity friends— including The-Olympian-Formerly-Known-As-Bruce Jenner’s first wife and third wife. Simpson’s girlfriend Paula Barbieri — did she really dump him for Michael Bolton?
Then there was The Dream Team, the all-star legal squad assembled to get Simpson off, against the stern, curly-haired undefeated prosecutor Marcia Clark. Her number two was the dour Chris Darden. And hapless Judge Ito — Remember the Dancing Itos?
Oh, man, were these characters ripe for the spoofing and satirizing.
The case became ingrained in the American lexicon. “The bloody gloves,” DNA evidence, “Colombian necktie,” the dog with the “plaintive wail,” “Absolutely, 100% not guilty,” a reward for “the real killers,” “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit,” Mark Furhman, the Furhman Tapes, the n-word, the “ugly ass” Bruno Magli shoes, “dealing the race card from the bottom of the deck.” Pure, raw comedy gold. Entertainment for the masses.
Don’t forget the places: Rockingham estate! Simpson’s bedroom! The Gretna Green condo! Mezzaluna restaurant!
The Jokes Stop
You pause here. The jokes stop cold. Mezzaluna is the upscale Brentwood place where Nicole Brown Simpson and her family ate after a dance recital hours before the murders. (O.J. wanted to go, but was told “no.”) Nicole’s mom had left a pair of glasses at the restaurant. A waiter, an aspiring actor and by all accounts a gem of a guy, happened to be a friend of Nicole’s. He’d be glad to run the glasses by her condo. His kindness would cost him his life.
Around 10 o’clock p.m., Sunday, June 12.
Whether the sight of a handsome young man at his ex-wife’s door triggered O.J. or Ron happened upon the scene and jumped to Nicole’s aid, Simpson unleashed unholy hell on Goldman. Ron fought back, but was no match for Simpson’s knife and fury. Simpson stabbed him 22 times. Nicole was stabbed 12 times, her head nearly severed.
25 years ago tonight.
I spent far more time at the Simpson Circus than most. It was my job, at times you could say it was an obsession. But today my heart isn’t with the show. It’s with the beautiful woman who warned all within range, including the cops, that the superstar with the million-watt smile meant her harm. That The Juice would prove fatal.
Especially, my heart is with the young man who gave his life for his friend. He wasn’t part of the L.A. celebrity scene. He wasn’t part of Simpson’s circle of influence. He just wanted to do Nicole a favor.
Of all the countless images from the Simpson Circus, the one I can’t escape is Ron’s little sister Kim sitting in the tent sobbing.
Al Perrotta is the Managing Editor of The Stream, former VP/Creative Director at All Comedy Radio and nationally-syndicated topical humor writer. You can follow him at @StreamingAl. And if you aren’t already, please follow The Stream at >@Streamdotorg.