In the beginning, she didn’t even recognize him, that’s how unworldly she was. “That’s O.J. Simpson!” her boss at the nightclub exclaimed. She had never heard of the guy.
Later, friends and relatives would recount the episode and shake their heads. It wasn’t just the naiveté. By the time she married him seven years later at the age of 25, it seemed there had never been a time when the larger-than-life celebrity had not dominated her existence.
Their home was his mansion. Their friends were his friends. Her relatives were his employees. When she decided to take up interior decorating, her only clients were Simpson and his pals. Friends said that if he did not like what she was wearing, she would change clothes to please him. Later she would tell friends that she felt so overwhelmed, not even her words felt to her like her own. In a divorce court deposition, she would later confess: “I’ve always told O.J. what he wants to hear.”
Now, the man who so shaped the life of Nicole Brown Simpson has come to dominate the story of her death as well. Charged with murdering her and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman, it is O.J. Simpson who has captivated the nation’s attention.
Nicole Simpson, meanwhile, has been reduced to the size of a poster child, her friends and relatives say bitterly: Murder victim; battered wife. Nothing like the strong, fun-loving woman they knew.
“It’s all O.J., O.J. right now,” said Rolf Baur, 46, a first cousin who was raised by Nicole Simpson’s parents and whom she and her sisters considered a brother.
Cynthia (Cici) Shahian, 39, a Beverly Hills friend, said: “I feel that Nicole has gotten lost in all this.”
Their Nicole, they say, was a 35-year-old wife and mother who had never felt free to be just herself. Half her life had been consumed in the tempestuous tit-for-tat that had been her celebrity marriage. In what would be her final days, she had resolved to finally find her identity.
But it was a wrenching endeavor. The relationship was a monstrous edifice, friends and relatives say, a dark house of passion, manipulation, money, love and violence.
Her quest, they believe, cost her her marriage.
Prosecutors say it cost her her life.
Baur said she stayed “because she loved him. And he loved her so much.” And there were her hopes, friends said, that her children would have a stable home.
“She said all she wanted was to be a good mom like her mom,” Fischman said. “All she wanted was a simple life.”
The divorce left Nicole Simpson single again for the first time since her teens. She was awarded $433,750 and $10,000 a month child support. She moved into a rented house five minutes from the mansion, then bought a nearby condominium. Friends said she was as dutiful a mother as ever, handling the car-pool, showing up at all the school functions, shuttling her little son to karate lessons and her daughter to dance class.
But suddenly, they said, a freer, lighter Nicole Simpson also began to emerge. The transformation in her, friends said, was palpable.
“She became Nicole Brown , her own person,” Fischman said. “She started all over again.”
“She was totally a real person,” said an acting teacher who ran into her intermittently over the years. “She had nice things, but she treated her Ferrari the way other people treat their Volkswagen. She was such a no-attitude person.”
Her friend Shahian added: “She was just so generous–with her money, herself. She’d have six, seven kids over there at a time.”
Still, the legacy of the marriage cast its shadow. She couldn’t help it. It was the standard against which she defined herself. Simpson detested smoking; she would sneak cigarettes. He was fastidious; she boasted about what a mess her new home was. During their marriage, he encouraged her to wear only the finest of clothes, deluging her with French Fogal stockings at $60 a pair. On her own, friends said, she had to be prodded to go shopping and showed up at black-tie dinners barelegged.
Nicole wanted to be free of him, she wanted to live her life with the children and raise them away from all this fiasco of the marriage,” Baur said. “She wanted to have a happier, more peaceful life. . . . This time it was different. She really meant it and he knew it.”
As always, their friends said, they made a stunning pair, she in her backless black dress, he in silk shirt and jeans. Three folding chairs, wide as a demilitarized zone, marked the chasm between them as their little girl danced. In less than six hours, Nicole Brown Simpson was dead.
Dreams of Better Days Died That Night by Shawn Hubler and Rebecca Trounson The Los Angeles Times (July 1994)