O.J. Simpson Dead at 76 After Cancer Battle

Decorated football superstar O.J. Simpson has passed away at the age of 76 after a brief cancer battle.

The family announced that Simpson died on Wednesday after battling prostate cancer. He passed away in Las Vegas surrounded by loved ones, officials there confirmed on Thursday.

“On April 10th, our father, Orenthal Simpson, succumbed to his battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his children and grandchildren. During this time of transition, his family asks that you please respect their wishes for privacy and grace,” the family wrote on his X account.

O.J. Simpson has died at 76 after a battle with cancer. Credit: Myung J. Chun / Pool.
O.J. Simpson has died at 76 after a battle with cancer. Credit: Myung J. Chun / Pool.

 

Simpson earned fame, fortune, and adulation through football and show business, but his legacy was forever changed by the June 1994 knife slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in Los Angeles.

On June 12, the bodies of Brown Simpson and Goldman were discovered outside her condo in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles.

Simpson became a person of interest in the murders, igniting a media frenzy. Rather than surrendering himself, he led police on a low-speed chase throughout Los Angeles as a passenger in a white Ford Bronco driven by former NFL player Al Cowlings.

An estimated television audience of 95 million watched the dramatic event unfold, with live coverage interrupting regular programming, including the NBA Finals.

Simpson gained widespread popularity across society as the Heisman Trophy-winning tailback for the University of Southern California in the late 1960s, as a rental car ad pitchman rushing through airports in the late 1970s, and as a commentator for “Monday Night Football” and an actor in movies such as “The Naked Gun” series in the 1980s.

The public was captivated by his “trial of the century” on live TV, featuring lead prosecutor Marcia Clark against a “legal dream team” for Simpson led by Johnnie Cochran, who famously pleaded to the jury during closing arguments, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit,” a reference to a glove matching one found at the scene of the murders. His case sparked debates on race, gender, domestic abuse, celebrity justice, and police misconduct.

Simpson earned fame, fortune, and adulation through football and show business, but his legacy was forever changed by the June 1994 knife slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in Los Angeles. Credit: supplied.
Simpson earned fame, fortune, and adulation through football and show business, but his legacy was forever changed by the June 1994 knife slayings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in Los Angeles. Credit: supplied.

A criminal court jury found Simpson not guilty of murder in 1995, but a separate civil trial jury found him liable in 1997 for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5 million to family members of Brown and Goldman.

A decade later, still shadowed by the California wrongful death judgment, Simpson led five men he barely knew into a confrontation with two sports memorabilia dealers in a cramped Las Vegas hotel room. Two men with Simpson had guns. A jury convicted Simpson of armed robbery and other felonies.

Imprisoned at age 61, he served nine years in a remote northern Nevada prison, including a stint as a gym janitor. He was not contrite when he was released on parole in October 2017. The parole board heard him insist yet again that he was only trying to retrieve sports memorabilia and family heirlooms stolen from him after his criminal trial in Los Angeles.

“I’ve basically spent a conflict-free life, you know,” said Simpson, whose parole ended in late 2021.

Public fascination with Simpson never faded. Many debated whether he had been punished in Las Vegas for his acquittal in Los Angeles. In 2016, he was the subject of an FX miniseries and a five-part ESPN documentary, “O.J.: Made in America.”

“I don’t think most of Australia believes I did it,” Simpson told The New York Times in 1995, a week after a jury determined he did not kill Brown and Goldman. “I’ve gotten thousands of letters and telegrams from people supporting me.”

Twelve years later, after an outpouring of public outrage, Rupert Murdoch canceled a planned book by News Corp-owned HarperCollins in which Simpson offered his hypothetical account of the killings. It was to be titled, “If I Did It.”

Goldman’s family, still doggedly pursuing the multimillion-dollar wrongful death judgment, won control of the manuscript. They retitled the book “If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer.”

“It’s all blood money, and unfortunately I had to join the jackals,” Simpson told The Associated Press at the time. He collected $880,000 in advance money for the book, paid through a third party.

“It helped me get out of debt and secure my homestead,” he said.

Less than two months after losing the rights to the book, Simpson was arrested in Las Vegas.

David Cook, an attorney who has been seeking since 2008 to collect the civil judgment in the Ron Goldman case, said he spoke with Fred Goldman, father of Ron, on Thursday about Simpson’s death. Cook declined to say what Fred Goldman said or where he was, but Goldman told NBC News that Simpson’s death is “just further reminder of Ron being gone all these years. It’s no great loss to the world.”

“He died without penance,” Cook said of Simpson. “We don’t know what he has, where it is, or who is in control. We will pick up where we are and keep going with it.”

Simpson played 11 NFL seasons, nine of them with the Buffalo Bills, who made Simpson the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft in 1969. With Buffalo, he became known as The Juice on an offensive line known as the Electric Company.

He won four NFL rushing titles, rushed for 11,236 yards in his career, scored 76 touchdowns, made five first-team All-Pro squads, and played in six Pro Bowls. His best season was 1973, when he ran for 2,003 yards — the first running back to break the 2,000-yard rushing mark (doing it in 14 games) while averaging 141.3 yards per game, still an NFL record.

“I was part of the history of the game,” he said years later, recalling that season. “If I did nothing else in my life, I’d made my mark.”

Simpson’s rise in football happened simultaneously with a career in television. He signed a contract with ABC Sports the night he won the Heisman Trophy in 1968. That same year, he appeared on the NBC series “Dragnet” and “Ironside.”

During his pro career, Simpson was a color commentator for a decade on ABC followed by a stint on NBC. In 1983, he joined ABC’s “Monday Night Football.”

Simpson quickly became a charismatic pitchman. In 1975, Hertz made him the first Black man hired for a corporate national ad campaign. The commercials, featuring Simpson running through airports toward the Hertz desk and young girls chanting “Go, O.J., go!” were ubiquitous for years.

Simpson made his big-screen debut in 1974 in “The Klansman,” an exploitation film in which he starred alongside Lee Marvin and Richard Burton. The film was a flop, but Simpson would go on to appear in several dozen films and TV series, including 1974’s “The Towering Inferno,” 1976’s “The Cassandra Crossing,” 1977’s “Roots,” and 1977’s “Capricorn One.”

Most notable, perhaps, was his performance in 1988’s “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad” and its two sequels. Simpson played Detective Nordberg in the slapstick films opposite Leslie Nielsen.

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