The story was uniquely Californian, beginning with the discovery shortly after midnight on Monday, June 13, of two bodies on a blood-soaked sidewalk in affluent Brentwood and ending surreally four days later with the celebrity suspect traveling slowly along Los Angeles freeways, pointing a gun at his own head, as the police trailed in stately pursuit.
Only in California can crime conform so neatly to cinema.
When it was all over, a former sports hero, whose colossal likability had fueled a career in TV, movies and endorsements – who had acquired wealth and important friends and who moved through life with an effortless grace – was in jail, charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.
Could Simpson, who declared his innocence at his arraignment on Monday, have committed this horrible crime, one carried out as his and Nicole’s two children, Sydney, 8, and Justin, 5, slept in their beds yards away?
Well, in 1989, O.J. pleased no contest to a charge that he beat Nicole in the wee hours of New Year’s Day, and there was an undercurrent of rage and obsession that ran through their seven-year marriage, their divorce in 1992 and even their attempt at reconciliation earlier this year.
There were hints of a dark side, if you look back, but hardly anything that would prepare you for Simpson’s arrest in this case.
“I knew he beat her,” says a prominent agent who was in the same social loop as Simpson. “It was common knowledge. A lot of his friends knew her – not just the 1989 incident, but all the beatings… They protected him”.
But Donna Estes, a friend of Nicole’s says that many of the couple’s friends considered the ’89 incident an aberration… “We wouldn’t have ostracized him or covered it up. If he had been forced to face this, maybe Nicole would be alive.”
One of O.J.’s broadcasting colleagues describes Nicole this way: “She was a dramatic person. A person with physical electricity. A dramatic physical presence. If you ask me whether she was beautiful, I’d say no, she was not beautiful. If you ask me whether she was elegant, I’d say not necessarily. She had an electric physical presence.
As for her personality, she had some vivacity, some spirit about her that was just there. If you were in a roomful of people, your eye turned to Nicole. There was something unusual about her. She was a willful, spirited person – a party animal. She loved to say, ‘ I want to go dance all night'”.
Sports Illustrated (June 27 1994)