OJ Simpson, former football star acquitted of murder, dies at 76

Simpson died after a battle with cancer, his family said.

April 11, 2024, 6:32 PM

O.J. Simpson, the former football great who was accused of and ultimately acquitted of the brutal 1994 slayings of his ex-wife and her friend, has died, according to his family. He was 76.

"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," a statement from his family said.

In May 2023, Simpson posted a video on X, then known as Twitter, revealing that he had recently "caught cancer" and "had to do the whole chemo thing." He added, "It looks like I beat it." Simpson didn't specify the nature of the cancer.

Then in February 2024, a Las Vegas television station reported that Simpson was again undergoing treatment for an unspecified cancer. Simpson himself posted a video on X that day, denying rumors that he was in hospice care, though he did not otherwise confirm or deny reports that he was ill. Two days later in another video update on X, Simpson thanked those people he said had reached out to him, adding "My health is good. I mean, obviously I'm dealing with some issues but I think I'm just about over it."

Simpson, nicknamed "The Juice," broke records as a college and professional football player, and extended his celebrity and fortune as a sportscaster, a movie and television actor, and as a corporate spokesman, most notably for Hertz rental cars.

PHOTO: O. J. Simpson (R) appears with his attorney Robert Shapiro in Los Angeles County Superior Court for his preliminary hearing in Los Angeles, June 30, 1994.
O. J. Simpson (R) appears with his attorney Robert Shapiro in Los Angeles County Superior Court for his preliminary hearing in Los Angeles, June 30, 1994.
Newsbase/AP, FILE

All that changed on June 12, 1994, when Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, were brutally stabbed to death outside of her home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood. Within days, police announced their intention to arrest the former football star for the murders.

Five days after the killings, 95 million Americans watched as Simpson's white Ford Bronco – with longtime friend Al Cowlings at the wheel and Simpson in the back seat with a handgun, threatening to kill himself – led police on a 60-mile, low-speed televised chase through Los Angeles that lasted some two hours.

Simpson ultimately surrendered to police and stood trial for the murders. In October 1995, after 11 months from jury selection to verdict, Simpson was acquitted in a trial that was televised daily and became an international sensation.

Twelve years later, Simpson was arrested in September 2007 after he led a group of men into a Las Vegas hotel and casino to steal, at gunpoint, what he claims was his own sports memorabilia. Simpson was charged with a number of felony counts, including kidnapping and armed robbery. The following year, he was found guilty and sentenced to up to 33 years in prison. Simpson was released on parole on Oct. 1, 2017.

Simpson is survived by four children: Arnelle and Jason, from his first marriage, and Sydney and Justin, from his marriage to Nicole Brown Simpson.

Kato Kaelin, a houseguest of Simpson's at the time of the murder who became a key witness during the trial, expressed his condolences Thursday to Simpson's children and his "love and compassion" to the families of Brown Simpson and Goldman.

"Nicole was a beacon of light that burned bright. May we never forget her," he said in a video statement posted on X.

A football hero

Simpson was born on July 9, 1947, and raised in Potrero Hill, a low-income neighborhood near San Francisco. His mother, Eunice, worked as an orderly at a psychiatric ward, and his father, Jimmy Lee, worked as a cook and custodian in a private club. When Simpson was just a toddler, his father left the family, leaving Simpson's mother to raise and support their four children on her own.

Despite being bow-legged and pigeon-toed from a bout with rickets in infancy, according to ESPN, Simpson developed a strong interest in sports as a child. In the spring of 1967, he enrolled at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and that same year he married his high school sweetheart, Marguerite Whitley, with whom he eventually had three children.

PHOTO: O.J. Simpson #32 of the University of Southern California Trojans looks on from the sidelines during an NCAA college football game circa 1968.
O.J. Simpson #32 of the University of Southern California Trojans looks on from the sidelines during an NCAA college football game circa 1968.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images, FILE

Playing for USC as a running back, Simpson soon became college football's leading rusher. By the time he left the school, he had set 13 college football records and had won the 1968 Heisman Trophy.

The charismatic young star athlete's television career took off like a rocket. On the night he won the Heisman, Simpson signed a television contract with ABC Sports. The following year, Simpson was the first pick in the 1969 draft, signing with the Buffalo Bills for a then-record $650,000, five-year contract. By 1973, Simpson had scored an NFL-record 23 touchdowns in a season. He also set the most rushing yards in a single game, with 250, and broke the record for the most rushing yards in a season, with 2,003.

PHOTO:  In this Oct. 10, 1976 file photo running back O.J. Simpson #32 of the Buffalo Bills carries the ball against the New York Jets during an NFL football game  at Shea Stadium in the Queens borough of New York City.
In this Oct. 10, 1976 file photo running back O.J. Simpson #32 of the Buffalo Bills carries the ball against the New York Jets during an NFL football game at Shea Stadium in the Queens borough of New York City.
Focus On Sport/Getty Images, FILE

Simpson's football prowess made him a star off the field as well. In 1975, Hertz signed Simpson as the first Black man hired for a major national corporate advertising campaign, with soon-familiar commercials of him, smiling and clad in business suit, running through airports and leaping over obstacles to get to his rental car. The success of the ad campaign led other corporations to sign endorsement contracts with Simpson, increasing both his wealth and name recognition.

The Buffalo Bills traded Simpson to the San Francisco 49ers prior to the 1978 season, prompting him to move with his family to the West Coast, though after two seasons with the team, physical problems prompted Simpson to retire from pro football as the highest-paid player in the NFL.

    Simpson had acted during his pro football years, notably appearing in the TV miniseries "Roots," as well as the films "The Towering Inferno," "Capricorn One" and others. Around the same time he retired from the NFL, he created his own production company and dove into the entertainment business full time. He continued acting, including as a regular in the "Naked Gun" film comedy series, and also served as a TV football commentator.

    Meeting Nicole Brown

    While still married to Marguerite, Simpson met Nicole Brown, then 18, while she worked as a nightclub waitress in Beverly Hills in 1977. It was the same year Simpson and Marguerite celebrated the arrival of their daughter, Aaren, and moved into a Tudor-style mansion in the Brentwood neighborhood of LA. Two years later, tragedy struck when Aaren died in the swimming pool at the family home. Around that same time, Simpson and Marguerite finalized their divorce, and Nicole Brown moved in.

    PHOTO: O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson pose at the premiere of the "Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Isult" in which O.J. starred on March 16, 1994 in Los Angeles.
    O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson pose at the premiere of the "Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Isult" in which O.J. starred on March 16, 1994 in Los Angeles.
    Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images, FILE

    Simpson and Brown were wed in 1985, a union that produced two children. However, the marriage was marred by accusations of Simpson's physical abuse of his wife. Simpson was arrested in 1989 for beating her as he reportedly threatened to kill her. He pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to probation, counseling and community service. Though the couple attempted to reconcile, Nicole Brown Simpson filed for divorce, which was finalized in 1992.

    'Trial of the Century'

    On the night of June 12, 1994, after Brown Simpson and her family dined at one of their favorite Los Angeles restaurants, Mezzaluna, she returned to her condominium on Bundy Drive in LA's Brentwood neighborhood, according to court records. Later that night, Ron Goldman, 25, a waiter at Mezzaluna, drove from the restaurant to Brown Simpson's home to return eyeglasses her mother had left at the restaurant that night.

    Around midnight, Brown Simpson and Goldman's bodies were found stabbed to death outside of her home.

    Simpson was in Los Angeles that evening, according to court records, but took a late flight that night to Chicago. When he returned to Los Angeles the next day, he was interviewed by police but was not immediately arrested.

    Five days after the murders, on June 17, 1994, prosecutors ordered Simpson to surrender to be charged with Brown Simpson and Goldman's deaths. He instead fled in the Ford Bronco with Cowlings, leading police on a slow-speed chase lasting some two hours that brought Southern California freeways to a standstill and was televised live, watched by an estimated 95 million Americans.

    PHOTO: Motorists wave as police cars pursue the Ford Bronco (white, R) driven by Al Cowlings, carrying fugitive murder suspect O.J. Simpson, on a 90-minute slow-speed car chase June 17, 1994 on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles.
    Motorists wave as police cars pursue the Ford Bronco (white, R) driven by Al Cowlings, carrying fugitive murder suspect O.J. Simpson, on a 90-minute slow-speed car chase June 17, 1994 on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles.
    Jean-Marc Giboux/Getty Images, FILE

    News helicopters hovered overhead, documenting the chase, and Angelinos raced from their homes and gathered along area highways and on overpasses to watch the extraordinary drama unfold in real time. Simpson eventually surrendered and was taken into custody. During his arraignment, he pleaded "Absolutely, positively, 100 percent not guilty" to all charges.

    Simpson's 1995 televised trial, dubbed the "trial of the century," was an international sensation, with the private lives of the participants – including witnesses, attorneys and the presiding judge – as much news as the trial itself, which sparked controversy and racial tensions from the time the jury was empaneled in November 1994, to the October 1995 reading of the verdict.

    PHOTO: O. J. Simpson sits in Superior Court in Los Angeles, Dec. 8, 1994.
    O. J. Simpson sits in Superior Court in Los Angeles, Dec. 8, 1994.
    Pool/AFP via Getty Images

    Defense attorneys claimed Simpson had been wrongly accused of the murders, but prosecutors argued that Simpson was a controlling husband who abused Brown Simpson. Prosecutors also presented blood from the crime scene found in Simpson's car and home, and the fact that he went unaccounted for more than an hour on the night of the murders.

    One of the most memorable moments of the trial came when prosecutors asked Simpson to try on a pair of black leather gloves in front of the jury and an international television audience. One glove had been discovered at the crime scene and the second had been found at Simpson's home. The gloves didn't appear to fit properly, which the prosecution later attributed to shrinkage from their original size caused by their having been soaked in blood. Regardless, when Simpson struggled to don the gloves, defense attorney Johnnie Cochran issued the trial's most memorable declaration during his closing argument: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

    PHOTO: O.J. Simpson tries on a leather glove allegedly used in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman during testimony in Simpson's murder trial June 15, 1995 in Los Angeles.
    O.J. Simpson tries on a leather glove allegedly used in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman during testimony in Simpson's murder trial June 15, 1995 in Los Angeles.
    Lee Celano/WireImage via Getty Images, FILE

    An unprecedented 150 million people watched on Oct. 3, 1995, as the verdict was read and Simpson was acquitted of the murders. Following his acquittal, Simpson publicly vowed to spend the rest of his life searching for what he called the "real" killer or killers.

    Despite the acquittal, Simpson soon found himself shunned in many of his previous social circles. His longtime agents dropped him and many corporations no longer wanted his endorsement. Simpson's credibility and earning power disintegrated virtually overnight. By 2000, Simpson had moved from Los Angeles to Miami, Florida.

    Though he was acquitted of criminal charges, the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman filed a civil suit against Simpson – the former for battery, and the latter for battery and wrongful death. Unlike the criminal trial, no cameras were allowed in court during the civil trial, which lasted just over three months and ended in February 1997 with the jury unanimously finding Simpson liable as alleged.

    PHOTO: Fred and Kim Goldman, father and sister of Ronald Goldman, appear in front of the media June 15, 1994 at their home in Agoura Hills, CA, following the murder of Ronald and O.J. Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson.
    Fred and Kim Goldman, father and sister of Ronald Goldman, appear in front of the media June 15, 1994 at their home in Agoura Hills, CA, following the murder of Ronald and O.J. Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson.
    Lee Celano/WireImage

    Simpson was ordered to pay a total of $21 million to the Goldman family and $12.5 million to the Brown family, for a total of $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Despite years of efforts, the families were only able to collect from Simpson a fraction of the damages the jury awarded.

    In 2006, a ghostwritten book titled "If I Did It," described by the publisher as a "hypothetical" confession and said to be based on interviews with Simpson, was scheduled to be published in conjunction with a TV special that would also feature Simpson. The special was canceled following widespread criticism, and the family of Ron Goldman – still pursuing the unpaid monetary damages awarded them in Simpson's civil trial – was awarded the rights to the book, which they retitled and published as "If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer."

    Goldman's family said in a statement to ABC News that Simpson's death "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 'If I Did It,' the hope for true accountability has ended," his sister, Kim Goldman, and father, Fred Goldman, said in a joint statement.

    "We will continue to advocate for the rights of all victims and survivors, ensuring our voices are heard both within and beyond the courtroom," the statement continued. "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."

    Conviction for robbery and kidnapping

    The night of Sept. 13, 2007, Simpson led a group of men – one of whom was armed with a handgun – into a Las Vegas hotel room to recover what Simpson claimed was sports memorabilia that had been stolen from him. He was arrested three days later and charged with 12 felony counts, including kidnapping and armed robbery. After a trial that lasted less than a month, Simpson was found guilty of all charges on Oct. 3, 2008 – 13 years to the day after he was acquitted in his Los Angeles double murder trial.

    PHOTO: O.J. Simpson stands during sentencing at the Clark County Regional Justice Center, Dec. 5, 2008, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
    O.J. Simpson stands during sentencing at the Clark County Regional Justice Center, Dec. 5, 2008, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
    Pool/Getty Images

    "Earlier in this case, at a bail hearing, I ... said to Mr. Simpson [that] I didn't know if he was arrogant or ignorant or both," Clark County District Court Judge Jackie Glass said during sentencing the following December. "During the trial and through this proceeding, I got this answer – and it was both."

    Simpson was sentenced to up to 33 years in prison.

    A free man

    In July 2017, Simpson was granted parole. Simpson sought to reassure the parole board that he would be successful in meeting the conditions of his parole.

    "I'm not a guy who lived a criminal life," he said. "I was always a good guy, but could have been a better Christian, and my commitment to change is to be a better Christian."

    "I had some problems with fidelity in my life, but I've always been a guy that pretty much got along with everybody," Simpson added.

    PHOTO: O.J. Simpson (C) reacts after learning he was granted parole at Lovelock Correctional Center July 20, 2017 in Lovelock, Nev.
    O.J. Simpson (C) reacts after learning he was granted parole at Lovelock Correctional Center July 20, 2017 in Lovelock, Nev.
    Jason Bean-Pool/Getty Images, FILE

    On Oct. 1, 2017, 70-year-old Simpson walked out of Nevada's Lovelock Correctional Institute as a free man. He moved from Miami to Las Vegas and commenced a lifestyle focused on golf, friends and regular posts to social media.

    In the 1994 letter Simpson's lawyers read to the nation while the former football star fled police during the Bronco chase, Simpson expressed satisfaction with the life he'd lived until that point.

    "I've had a good life. I'm proud of how I lived. My mama taught me to do unto others. I treated people the way I wanted to be treated," Simpson wrote, according to his attorneys.

    "Don't feel sorry for me," the letter went on. "I've had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person. ... Thanks for making my life special. I hope I helped yours."

    -ABC News Sheila Marikar and Christopher Watson contributed to this report.

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