Fallen football star O.J. Simpson, celebrity murder defendant, dies of cancer at 76

Electric athlete and actor gained notoriety for on and off-field successes, but his double murder ‘trial of the century’ marked a turning point in America’s racial landscape

Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nevada in 2017. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool, File)
Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nevada in 2017. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool, File)

O.J. Simpson, the decorated football superstar and Hollywood actor who was acquitted of charges he killed his former wife and her friend but later found liable in a separate civil trial, has died. He was 76.

Simpson, cleared by a Los Angeles jury in what the United States media called “the trial of the century,” had died on Wednesday after a battle with cancer, his family posted on social media on Thursday. Simpson’s attorney confirmed to TMZ he died in Las Vegas.

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.

Live TV coverage of his arrest after a famous slow-speed chase marked a stunning fall from grace for the sports hero.

Nicknamed “The Juice,” Simpson was one of the best and most popular athletes of the late 1960s and 1970s. He overcame childhood infirmity to become an electrifying running back at the University of Southern California and won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s top player. After a record-setting career in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Simpson parlayed his football stardom into a career as a sportscaster, advertising pitchman and Hollywood actor in films, including the “Naked Gun” series.


“I’m not Black, I’m O.J.,” he liked to tell friends.

All that changed after Nicole Brown Simpson and Goldman were found fatally slashed in a bloody scene outside her Los Angeles home on June 12, 1994.

Buffalo Bills’ O.J. Simpson posing for a photo in 1969. (AP Photo/File)

Simpson quickly emerged as a suspect. He was ordered to surrender to police, but five days after the killings, he fled in his white Ford Bronco with a former teammate – carrying his passport and a disguise. The slow-speed chase through the Los Angeles area ended at Simpson’s mansion and he was later charged in the murders.

The white Ford Bronco, driven by Al Cowlings carrying O.J. Simpson, being trailed by Los Angeles police cars as it travels on a freeway in Los Angeles on June 17, 1994. (AP/Joseph Villarin, File)

What ensued was one of the most notorious trials in 20th-century America and a media circus. It had everything: a rich celebrity defendant; a Black man accused of killing his white former wife out of jealousy; a woman slain after divorcing a man who had beaten her; a “dream team” of pricy and charismatic defense lawyers; and a huge gaffe by prosecutors.

Simpson, who at the outset of the case declared himself “absolutely 100 percent not guilty,” waved at the jurors and mouthed the words “thank you” after the predominantly Black panel of 10 women and two men acquitted him on October 3, 1995.

Prosecutors argued that Simpson killed Nicole in a jealous fury, and they presented extensive blood, hair and fiber tests linking Simpson to the murders. The defense countered that the celebrity defendant was framed by racist white police.

The trial transfixed America. In the White House, US President Bill Clinton left the Oval Office and watched the verdict on his secretary’s TV. Many Black Americans celebrated his acquittal, seeing Simpson as the victim of bigoted police. Many white Americans were appalled by his exoneration.

O.J. Simpson during the double murder trial in 1995. (Vince Bucci/Pool/AFP)

Simpson’s legal team included prominent criminal defense lawyers Johnnie Cochran, Alan Dershowitz and F. Lee Bailey, who often out-maneuvered the prosecution. Prosecutors committed a memorable blunder when they directed Simpson to try on a pair of blood-stained gloves found at the murder scene, confident they would fit perfectly and show he was the killer.

In a highly theatrical demonstration, Simpson struggled to put on the gloves and indicated to the jury they did not fit.

Delivering the trial’s most famous words, Cochran referred to the gloves in closing arguments to jurors with a rhyme: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” Dershowitz later called the prosecution’s decision to ask Simpson to try on the gloves “the greatest legal blunder of the 20th century.”

The Goldman and Brown families subsequently pursued a wrongful death lawsuit against Simpson in civil court. In 1997, a predominately white jury in Santa Monica, California, found Simpson liable for the two deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5 million in damages.

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.

O.J. Simpson sits during a break on the second day of an evidentiary hearing in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas on May 14, 2013. (AP/Ethan Miller, Pool, File)

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 didn’t want to hurt anybody,” Simpson, donning a blue prison jumpsuit with shackles on his legs and wrists, said at his sentencing. “I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.”

Simpson was released on parole in 2017 and moved into a gated community in Las Vegas. He was granted early release from parole in 2021 due to good behavior at age 74.

His life saga was recounted in the Oscar-winning 2016 documentary “O.J.: Made in America,” as well as various TV dramatizations.

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