Orenthal James Simpson rose in dramatic fashion from the vicious streets of San Francisco’s predominately Black Potrero Hill to become one of America’s most enduring and beloved sports figures, pulling in millions of dollars annually.
Now charged with the double murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, and her friend Ronald Goldman, 25, O.J., as the world calls him, has been quickly and shockingly reduced from adored legend to prisoner Number 4013970 in the Los Angeles County Jail under suicide watch.
O.J. Simpson gained international fame as the zig-zagging, Heisman Trophy-winning running back at the University of Southern California and the almost-impossible-to-bring-down halfback with the Buffalo Bills. He singlehandedly put the franchise on the football map…
And to top it all off, he had good looks and charisma. For Hollywood and the advertising industry, he was a dream come true.
Many remember him as the long-time spokesman for Hertz Rent-A-Car, the man who sprinted through airports to get his car as observers cheered.
Unlike many sports figures who fade into oblivion after their careers are over, Simpson was every bit as popular if not more so after he left football in 1979.
The fact that he was a family man also endeared the Juice to fans, especially the female variety. While at USC in 1967, he married his childhood friend, Marguerite Whitley, who had dated Cowlings.
Soon after Simpson turned pro, there emerged reports of marital trouble. During some of his early Buffalo years, Marguerite and their children stayed in L.A.
“Being on the road is a strain. I mean, you know how your lady is – she wants you there. But after I make the transition from football to whatever else I’ll be doing, things will be different…”
In a 1978 JET cover story, Simpson said teenage girls had cornered him for autographs. He was named in a paternity suit. Stewardesses conveniently sat on his lap and he had to deal with rumors of affairs with such women as Liz Taylor and Sophia Loren.
“Well, I’m healthy and I’m a man. I wear clothes to accentuate. I like European clothes and I’m like any other guy or lady who likes to put his best foot forward.”
He said he couldn’t worry about the wild rumors.
“I can’t go out and protect from what people say about me. I try to have a good time…”
Simpson and Marguerite divorced in 1979, the year their third child, daughter Aaren, drowned in their L.A. pool… An emotional Simpson told reporters in 1979 that football helped ease the pain of Aaren’s death.
Despite the divorce, it was that carmel-brown face and his talent for talk that enabled him to become his own best promoter and led him to Hollywood. His boyish face and charms paved the way for a career in films.
Simpson, for some reason, received some immediate and heavy criticism when he made a television movie about an interracial romance with Elizabeth Montgomery titled A Killing Affair.
He also was criticized when pictures of him with another White woman, Nicole Brown, surfaced in 1979. He met her in 1977 when she was an 18-year-old waitress in L.A., and had her move in with him two years later.
The two by many accounts, lived a lavish life-traveling around the world in style, living in beautiful homes on Los Angeles’ posh West Side and an elegant New York apartment. Nicole, a blonde model, tooled around L.A. in a beautiful Ferrari.
After a stormy, seven-year marriage, Simpson and Nicole divorced.
And now, it is over. Hertz dropped Simpson as its spokesman after he was charged with murder and the media, the organ that showered him with compliments for the last 25 years, has attacked him non-stop since his name emerged as a suspect.
The Los Angeles District Attorney, Gil Garcetti, has said the case is about domestic violence and the subject has appeared on numerous talk shows and news programs.
Fans and many media observers have expressed outrage at the number of unsubstantiated rumors newspapers and television programs have run with. There had been much reporting of a ski mask being found at Simpson’s estate. During a hearing, the district attorney’s office was forced to admit that it does not exist.
Fans interviewed by JET said they were gathering at his home not just because they feel he is innocent, they also said they felt the Juice was the victim of racism and an unfair media witch hunt.
There was also widespread shock and numbness that such a truly beloved individual could ever end up behind bars for any reason.
Jet Magazine (July 11 1994)