“Please remember me as Juice,'” – O. J. Simpson, June, 1994
On June 17, 1994, O. J. Simpson was at Robert Kardashian’s house with his lawyers, who thought he was minutes away from turning himself into the police. It was a pre-arranged deal that doesn’t happen very often with murder charges, but these were special circumstances. It’s not every day that a someone as famous and widely beloved as O. J. Simpson is suspected of murdering his ex-wife.
“Please remember me as a good guy. Don’t remember me as one of the negatives that might end up here. Please, please, please, please leave my kids at peace. I love everybody.” – O. J. Simpson, June 1994
O. J. had a secret, though. One that his longtime friend Robert Kardashian knew before anyone else: he was suicidal and panicking. In Robert’s daughter Kim Kardashian’s bedroom, O. J. sat with a gun, saying he was ready to shoot himself right then and there.
“You can’t,” Robert says he pleaded. “This is my daughter’s bedroom. My little girl Kim sleeps here. I can’t have my little girl in this bedroom and every time I come in here, I’m going to see your body lying in this. You can’t do that.”
In 1996, Kardashian revealed he walked Simpson around his property pointing out spots where he could perform his last act. One of the spots was by Kardashian’s swimming pool. “I said, ‘Why don’t you do it right here,’ knowing for some reason that he probably wouldn’t,” Kardashian told Barbara Walters. “And he said — looked up at the sun and said, ‘I can’t do it here, I’ll be baking in the sun.’ I said ‘O.J., you’re not going to be here, your spirit’s going to be gone. What do you care!'” After Kardashian’s suicide scouting session with O. J., which was an successful attempt to shock O. J. out of killing himself, O. J.’s friend A.C. Cowlings arrived and agreed to look after the football star until it was time to turn himself into the cops.
O. J. and A. C. then jumped in A. C.’s now infamous white Ford Bronco and fled. He left behind a tape of himself “saying goodbye,” and several letters: one addressed to his mother, one to his children, and one to the public. According to Jeffrey Toobin’s book The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson, Kardashian palmed the letters, choosing not to show them to the police or O. J.’s defense attorneys for the moment.
“Everybody loved me but I don’t know why. Things in my life just caught up to me.” – O. J. Simpson, June 1994
Toobin also says that O. J.’s lawyer Robert Shapiro was bewildered by his client’s behavior, and made special care to protect himself in the ensuing media storm. He had made special accommodations for O. J. during a very serious legal situation, and O. J. had betrayed his trust at a critical moment.
What resulted in the next few hours was possibly the most compelling few hours of American television ever. Robert Kardashian read O. J.’s letter live, on air shortly before over 95 million Americans tuned in to watch O. J.’s white Bronco in a slow-paced police chase down the Interstate. The Bronco was surrounded, and we were able to watch so easily because the helicopters were pretty sure where he was going. Affiliate newscasters across the nation ignited the viewers’ panic with their own confusion about what was going on. Domino’s Pizza reported record sales during this live drama: no one wanted to think much about dinner during one of the most entertaining thrillers of our time.
When Robert Kardashian first read his friend’s note live, on-air, he made a few corrections. Kardashian read: “To whom it may concern: First, everyone understand I had nothing to do with Nicole’s murder.”
In the real letter, however, O. J. crossed out “I had,” neutering the denial implied in the sentence’s original form. To further the strangeness, O. J. fails to make any attempt to deny involvement in the death of Ron Goldman, and later in the letter apologizes to the Goldman family. “I’m sorry for the Goldman family. I know how much it hurts,’ he wrote.
“Unlike what has been written in the press, Nicole and I had a great relationship for most of our lives together. Like all long-term relationships, we had a few downs and ups,” Simpson wrote about his turbulent marriage to Nicole. There are several things interesting about these lines. The first strange thing is O. J.’s perception of how the press covered reports of his domestic violence against Nicole. Ultimately there was very little covered, and in general the public didn’t know much about the nine different times police were called for domestic disturbances until after Nicole was murdered. The second interesting thing about this quote is his decision to put downs before ups: the choice puts a darker spin on the oft-used expression. At some point in the letter he said he sometimes felt like “a battered husband,” an attempt to shift the victimhood from his dead ex-wife to himself.
He signed the letter by putting a smiley face in the O of his initials. It’s a disturbing flourish that seems to illustrate the importance O.J. put on his well-maintained image. It had worked so far, and he had relentlessly devoted his life to cultivating who O. J. was, that he was blind to all his missteps in his letter. In this context, his forced positivity seems sinister and bewildering, but O. J. couldn’t see that. The mother of his children had just died, and his suicide letter focuses on the grief he feels over his fallen image. That’s the first thing he mourns; not his former partner. When he mentions his children, his perception of their pain in only in relationship to the stress they’ll not be under with all this media scrutiny. He fails to consider the unimaginable pain of losing their young mother in such a devastatingly brutal way.
Later, after O. J. found himself in prison for kidnapping and robbery charges, O. J. shocked everyone, including himself, when he wrote a book called If I Did It. Most of the book is an indictment against Nicole Brown Simpson, against her moods and her wild behaviors. He puts painstaking effort into painting her as a terror, condemning her as an overbearing mother who liked to drink too much and run with the wrong crowd. O. J. was pleased with this part of the book and relished working on it. For it to be published, however, he had to agree to include one particular chapter: a highly detailed “hypothetical” explanation of how O.J. would kill Nicole if he had done it.
The book’s publisher, Judith Regan, received a huge amount of backlash for choosing to publish the book, and it was even put on hold for a while. She released a statement explaining that she thought this information was valuable historically because it lets us into the mind of a “sociopath.” She said ex-CIA specialist Phil Houston told her, “‘When killers confess the way they often do it is by creating a hypothetical’ — and then they spill their guts. For many of them, it is the only way to tell the truth.” In 2007, a bankruptcy court ruled that 90% of the book’s proceeds would go to the Goldman family, and the remaining 10% would go towards paying the $33.5 million wrongful death judgment that was awarded to the Goldman and Brown families in 1997.
In O. J.’s fictionalized account of the night of June 12, 1994, he invents a friend named Charlie who rolls up at Nicole’s house by coincidence. Charlie’s friends then supply O. J. with some information that infuriates him: they saw Nicole partying with Faye Resnick in Cabo San Lucas. There were drinking and drugs. He describes the situation as “kinky.”
This is the justification, the reason O. J. says he would have killed his ex-wife if he had done it. Then, this hypothetical O. J. blacks out and awakens to find himself holding a bloody knife next to the lifeless bodies of Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman. “It didn’t seem real, and none of it computed. What the f**k happened here? And why? And where the f**k was I when this is sh!t went down?”
This overwhelming flood of questions echoes several lines of his suicide note. “I think of my life and feel I’ve done most of the right things,” he wrote. “So why do I end up like this? I can’t go on. No matter what the outcome, people will look and point. I can’t take that.”
“If we had a problem, it’s because I loved her so much,” he scrawled in the same letter, referencing his troubled relationship with Nicole. Several times O. J. has spoken of having too many emotions when it comes to Nicole, including when he viewed her dead body. At that time O. J. said, while standing over her, “My problem was that I loved her too much.” He seems to be telling us again and again that if he hurt Nicole, it would be a crime of passion.
Nicole’s good friend Kris Jenner (and Robert Kardashian’s ex-wife) said at the end of her life Nicole had started to tell her friends that she feared for her life. “The one thing she would tell all of us by the time, you know, it got to that level was, ‘He’s going to kill me and he’s going to get away with it,'” Kris said in an LMN documentary that aired last fall. In 1996, when Barbara Walters asked Robert Kardashian if he still thought his friend was innocent, Kardashian replied, “I have doubts.”
The O. J. Simpson trial is being examined in depth via the first installment of FX’s American Crime Story. The major source material for the series is Jeffrey Toobin’s 1996 book. This summer, ESPN plans to re-explore the history-making trial with one of its 30 for 30 documentaries.
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