O.J. Simpson’s Passing At 76: Remembering a Controversial Figure

O.J. Simpson, the ex-NFL star and broadcaster, whose fame dimmed amid his 1995 trial for the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, passed away from cancer, as confirmed by his family on Thursday via X. He was 76.

A post from the “Simpson Family” on Simpson’s verified X account Thursday morning said:

“On April 10th, our father, Orenthal James 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.”

About two months ago, Pro Football Hall of Fame President Jim Porter disclosed Simpson’s prostate cancer diagnosis in a statement.

The renowned athlete had been undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

Despite Simpson’s accolades as a decorated athlete, including winning the 1968 Heisman Trophy while playing for the University of Southern California and his tenure with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and later the San Francisco 49ers, his legacy was overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the murder charges involving his former wife and her friend.

The news of O.J. Simpson’s death surprised and saddened everyone (Credit: YouTube)

A jury acquitted Simpson in a trial that captivated America, intertwining celebrity culture with deep-seated issues of race, class, policing, and criminal justice.

Dubbed the “Trial of the Century,” its televised proceedings held the nation spellbound for nearly nine months, becoming a cultural landmark.

In 1997, a second jury unanimously found Simpson responsible for the wrongful deaths of Brown Simpson and Goldman in a civil lawsuit brought by Goldman’s family, resulting in a $33.5 million damages verdict.

Despite his claims of innocence, public opinion shifted over time, with a 2016 poll indicating that the majority of Americans believed he was guilty.

Kim and Fred Goldman, the parents of Ron Goldman, said in a statement:

“The news of Ron’s killer passing away is a mixed bag of complicated emotions and reminds us that the journey through grief is not linear.”

“For three decades we tirelessly pursued justice for Ron and Nicole, and despite a civil judgment and his confession in (a book titled ‘If I Did It’), the hope for true accountability has ended,” the Goldmans said.

“We will continue to advocate for the rights of all victims and survivors, ensuring our voices are heard both within and beyond the courtroom. And despite his death, the mission continues; there’s always more to be done.

Thank you for keeping our family, and most importantly Ron, in your hearts for the last 30 years.”

Gloria Allred, the Los Angeles attorney who represented Brown Simpson’s family during Simpson’s criminal trial, lamented his passing as a reminder of the justice system’s failure to protect battered women and its tendency to let celebrity figures evade true accountability.

Simpson later faced imprisonment in an unrelated case, serving nine years of a potential 33-year sentence following his conviction for charges stemming from a 2007 armed robbery in Las Vegas.

The incident involved Simpson and accomplices attempting to reclaim what he claimed was his own sports memorabilia at gunpoint.

What Others Say About O.J. Simpson? 

He was granted parole in 2017, telling the Nevada parole board:

“I’ve done my time. I’ve done it as well and as respectfully as I think anyone can.”

More recently, Simpson regained a level of notoriety on X, where he regularly shared videos discussing football and politics with his nearly 900,000 followers.

Veteran sportscaster Bob Costas, who developed a friendship with Simpson during their time broadcasting together on NBC, remarked that Simpson was not only a Hall of Fame-caliber player but also embodied an intangible quality that transcended statistics.

“He was not just admired, but beloved,” Costas told. “He was, if not the first, he was the first to do it in a big way, an African American who broke through.”

Sports analyst Christine Brennan described Simpson as an “American icon” whose influence transcended the realm of sports.

Even those who were not sports enthusiasts or familiar with his athletic career recognized Simpson for his appearances in movies and various commercials.

One of his most famous commercials was a 1978 Hertz car rental ad featuring him sprinting through an airport.

“And then the trial, and the civil trial, the civil case he lost, and the fall from grace that was extraordinary and well-deserved, absolutely self-induced, and a man that would never be seen the same again,” Brennan told.

More About O.J. Simpson

Orenthal James Simpson was born to Eunice Simpson, a nurse’s aide, and Jimmie Lee Simpson, a custodian and cook, on July 9, 1947, in San Francisco. He spent his formative years in the Potrero Hill housing complex.

Although Simpson battled rickets as a child, necessitating leg braces until he was around 5 years old, his natural athletic ability shone through early on. He devoted much of his time to the local recreation center.

“It was those years, between 8 and 16, where I developed what athletic skill I had,” Simpson told in 1977. “I think I spent more time at the Center than I did at home or at school.”

In his youth, Simpson had several brushes with the law. He became involved with various San Francisco street gangs as a teenager and faced multiple arrests.

Reflecting on his experiences, he described these encounters as simply a part of life in a low-income neighborhood.

Despite showing promise as a young athlete, Simpson’s academic performance in high school did not attract interest from collegiate football recruiters.

Initially considering joining the US Army, he reconsidered after a friend returned from Vietnam with a lost leg. Instead, Simpson opted to enroll at City College of San Francisco, where he pursued football and track.

O.J. Simpson left all of us behind (Credit: Pinterest)

According to a source, Simpson scored an impressive 54 touchdowns over two years at City College of San Francisco, garnering attention from recruiters at various schools, including USC.

At USC, Simpson’s talents flourished as he set the NCAA single-season rushing record in 1968.

That same year, he also clinched the Heisman Trophy by the largest margin ever recorded at the time, a distinction that remained unchallenged for over five decades.

“Simpson was not only the greatest player I ever had – he was the greatest player anyone ever had,” USC head coach John McKay once said of Simpson, according to another source.

The year after, Simpson ascended to the NFL as the Buffalo Bills’ first overall draft pick.

However, his initial years as a professional proved challenging as the Bills’ coaching staff chose not to center their offense around him. It wasn’t until 1972, with the appointment of Lou Saban as head coach replacing John Rauch, that Simpson’s fortunes shifted.

Under Saban’s leadership, Simpson once again began breaking records, notably becoming the first back in history to rush for over 2,000 yards in 1973.

“I was in the locker room all by myself right before the game ended,” he told of crossing the threshold.

“I started walking around thinking how I couldn’t wish to be anything more or anyone else. I was part of the history of the game. If I did nothing else in my life, I’d made my mark.”

In 1978, Simpson joined the San Francisco 49ers and retired after two seasons, but his departure wasn’t without fanfare.

Alongside his athletic pursuits, Simpson ventured into acting and swiftly became a prominent commercial figure at a time when few African American athletes secured endorsement or merchandise deals.

Notably, he starred in television commercials for Hertz, showcasing his speed racing through airports.

Additionally, Simpson appeared in both television and film, notably the “The Naked Gun” series, and worked as a sportscaster for major networks such as ABC and NBC.

These endeavors contributed to crafting an image of Simpson as approachable and charismatic.

Marriage Life

In 1967, Simpson married his high school sweetheart, Marguerite Whitley, and they welcomed three children: Arnelle, Jason, and Aaren, tragically lost in a drowning accident in 1979.

The couple’s relationship deteriorated, leading to separation in 1978, around the time Simpson met 18-year-old Nicole Brown, a waitress at The Daisy nightclub in Beverly Hills. They soon moved in together, and Simpson’s marriage to Whitley ended in divorce the following year.

Simpson and Brown tied the knot on February 2, 1985, and had two children, Sydney Brooke Simpson in 1985 and Justin Ryan Simpson in 1988.

However, their marriage was characterized by volatility, with numerous allegations of domestic violence and reports of abuse.

In a notable incident on New Year’s Day in 1989, police responded to a call at the Simpson residence, where Brown Simpson, sporting a split lip and a black eye, expressed fear for her life, referencing past incidents of abuse. Simpson later pleaded no contest to spousal battery.

The couple officially separated in February 1992 when Brown Simpson filed for divorce, despite attempts at reconciliation.