On December 5 of 2008, Orenthal James ‘O.J.’ Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in prison for armed robbery and kidnapping. It was his second major run-in with the law after famously being accused of the murders of his ex-wife and her friend in 1994. In the 90s, Simpson was acquitted after a very lengthy, headline-grabbing trial, but in 2007, he was convicted, serving a total of nine years before being released in 2017. Before his remarkable fall from grace, Simpson was one a highly successful, record-breaking NFL running back. This is his story.
The Early Life of O.J.
O.J. Simpson was born on July 9 of 1947. He was born to Eunice and Jimmy Lee Simpson. His mother worked as a hospital admin worker, while his father had multiple jobs and was a homosexual but kept this side of his life a secret for many years. When O.J. was just five years old, his parents split up.
(Photo Paul Harris/Getty Images)
He also struggled with health issues in his early life, developing rickets and having to wear leg braces. Growing up in the projects of San Francisco, O.J. started having trouble with the law as early as his teenage years. He joined up with a gang and was arrested multiple times.
A Troubled Kid Turns To Sports
The third time O.J. got arrested, he met MLB star Willie Mays, who encouraged the troubled teen to try and change his ways. Simpson was inspired and decided to pursue sports, joining up with his school team, the Galileo Lions.
O.J. Simpson, USC’s running back gives the victory sign as he is carried off the field by hundreds of cheering fans. Simpson scored two touchdowns. USC beat UCLA, 21-20.
He continued to play football at City College of San Francisco and started to make waves as a running back, even nearly winning the fabled Heisman Trophy as a junior. He won the trophy by a record-breaking landslide in his senior year in 1968 and was chosen as the first pick by the Buffalo Bills in the 1969 AFL-NFL Common Draft.
O.J. had one of the biggest ever contract in NFL history, but he earned every single dollar. He was fantastic for Buffalo, breaking one record after another. In 1973, for example, he became the first ever player to amass more than 2,000 rushing yards in a single season, winning the NVL MVP Award that same year.
President-elect Richard Nixon with Notre Dame Quarterback Terry Hanratty and USC halfback O.J. Simpson.
He led the league for rushing yards in four separate seasons and set several records, including being the only player to ever rush for more than 200 yards in six different games. He never won a trophy and only played in one playoff game, but was still regarded as an excellent NFL player and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.
Simpson’s Star Life Continues
O.J. always loved the spotlight and had dreamed of a career in acting for many years. Even while he was still playing football, he made some TV and film appearances in titles like Roots, The Towering Inferno, and Capricorn One.
Then, in 1979, at the end of his NFL career, he created his own movie business called Orenthal Productions. He produced and starred in several made-for-TV movies like Goldie and the Boxer. He also famously had a starring role in The Naked Gun movies. He was also set to star in his action TV series called Frogmen and had filmed a pilot, but the show was never aired due to Simpson’s subsequent arrest.
A Fractured Personal Life
Simpson was only 19 when he got married to Marguerite L. Whitley. The couple had three children together named Arnelle, Jason, and Aaren. Aaren, who was born in 1977, tragically died in 1979 after drowning in the family pool. One thousand nine hundred seventy-nine was a particularly tumultuous year for Simpson as he and Margeurite also got divorced.
O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson at the premiere of the ‘Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Isult’. (Photo by Vinnie Zuffante/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
He’d been seeing a woman named Nicole Brown, a nightclub waitress, secretly since 1977 and spent several years in a relationship with her before tying the knot once more in 1985. With Brown, Simpson had two more children: Sydney and Justin. Simpson was accused of spousal abuse in 1989, and the marriage completely broke down from there, resulting in divorce in 1992.
The Murder Case
Then, in 1994, the most dramatic period of O.J. Simpson’s life began. On June 12 of that year, the bodies of Nicole Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were found. They had been stabbed to death.
Police cars pursue the Ford Bronco driven by Al Cowlings, carrying fugitive murder suspect O.J. Simpson, on a 90-minute slow-speed car chase. (Photo by Jean-Marc Giboux/Liaison)
O.J. Simpson was immediately regarded as a person of interest and fled from police, with the chase being shown live on TV. The subsequent case became known as the ‘Trial of the Century,’ with tens of millions of viewers and a global audience waiting to hear the latest updates. In the end, Simpson was found ‘not guilty’ of the murders after being defended by a veritable ‘Dream Team’ of lawyers including Johnnie Cochran.
Reaction and Aftermath
Simpson had been cleared of criminal charges, but the story didn’t end there. Ron Goldman’s relatives filed a lawsuit against the former NFL star. This time, a jury found Simpson to be liable for the wrongful death of Ron Goldman and ordered him to pay $33.5 million. Simpson was subsequently evicted from his home and had to auction off many of his belongings, including his Heisman Trophy.
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. (Photo by Lee Celano/WireImage)
He managed to support himself by signing things for football fans. The hype around the murder case continued to permeate America and the world at large, with the story still being talked about today and many Americans voting in polls to say they believe Simpson to be guilty.
Additional Legal Issues
Simpson’s legal issues and crime connections continued in the years following the murder trial. He owed over a million dollars in taxes to the State of California and had to be pursued for that. He was also arrested in 2001 after an altercation with a motorist in which Simpson pulled the man’s glasses off.
The Heisman Memorial Trophy Award that was presented by the Downtown Atheltic Club of New York City to O.J Simpson in 1968. (Photo credit FREDERICK M BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
He was acquitted of all charges, but the issues kept coming. Later that year, his home was searched for drugs, with the FBI even suspecting Simpson to be involved in money laundering schemes. He was arrested once more in 2002 for speeding on a motorboat in Florida but only received a fine.
Simpson couldn’t keep himself out of trouble. In 2007, he led a group of armed robbers to the Las Vegas Palace Station hotel and casino, stealing various items of sporting memorabilia. The former Bulls star was arrested and charged with multiple felonies including assault, kidnapping, and robbery.
O.J. Simpson with attorneys Gabriel Grasso and Yale Galanter appearing in court on charges which include kidnapping, assault, and burglary at the Clark County Regional Justice Center. (Photo by Clint Karlsen-Pool/Getty Images)
After another big trial, Simpson was found guilty on October 3 of 2008. He was sentenced a couple of months later to 33 years in prison, with a possibility of parole after the first nine years of his sentence. Due to good behavior, Simpson was granted parole on July 20 of 2017 and was released on October 1 of that year.
O.J. Simpson’s story has fascinated the American public for decades, and he continues to be one of the most talked-about celebrities in the world. Various movies, documentaries, and TV mini-series have been dedicated to his story, with many focusing on the high-profile murder trial.
The cast and crew of The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story attends the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Moet & Chandon)
One of the most recent and successful depictions of Simpson’s story in the media was ‘The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story,’ starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simpson. In 2007, Simpson made more waves when a book entitled ‘If I Did It’ was released in which he, along with ghostwriter Pablo Fenjves, describes how he ‘could’ have committed the murders.