As FX ends its series “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson,” tonight, The Truth Barrier brings you some narrative that is a bit different.
This is the real story–a more real story– for those who care to know it, and understand it on a level beyond the media’s cartoonish renditions.
The teller of the story is Mike Gilbert, O.J.’s marketing agent for many years.
I got to know Mike Gilbert first when he spoke to me on the record for a 1998 story I published in Esquire, Whistling In The Dark, which made international headlines due largely to OJ’s cryptic quote: “Let’s say I killed her. If I killed her, it would have to have been because I loved her very much, right?” In 2000, I wrote another cover story about O.J. for Rolling Stone—O.J. Inc. Once again, Mike Gilbert was an invaluable voice and source, In 2008, this material that we collaborated on, telling Mike’s whole story at last, was published.
You can buy the book on Amazon, if this stirs your interest.
By Mike Gilbert
(From the book How I Helped OJ Get Away With Murder (Regnery, 2008) written by Celia Farber, story by Mike Gilbert)
How I Helped OJ Simpson Get Away With Murder
By Mike Gilbert
“Man must not disclaim his brotherhood with even the guiltiest.”
I am not interested in anybody’s forgiveness, but I do want to tell the real story. I want you to know what happened, why it happened, and how it happened. I want you to see us as real people, no matter how you may judge us by the end of this book.
Before O.J. Simpson killed his ex-wife and her friend on the night of June 12, 1994, we were all people you might have liked. We worked hard, kept our business affairs straight, kept discretions (in personal matters), and watched each other’s backs. There were four of us in the innermost O.J. circle: Me, Skip Taft, Cathy Randa, and Al Cowlings—the agent, the lawyer, the personal assistant, and the best friend. None of us talk anymore. During the trial we were inseparable, but the pain and stress dissolved our bonds and now there’s just a resigned silence. Our relationships wound up snuffed out by everything we could not discuss, thoughts we could not voice.
We’re not evil, stupid, or crazy, any of us. We could see the evidence. We knew O.J., we knew Nicole, we knew their dynamics, we saw the evidence, and in our hearts we knew the truth.
But there are deeper truths we also knew, that none of the rest of you knew. It doesn’t change the bottom line: He did it. Of that I am 100% certain. Maybe if we start there, you can relax a little, and not feel that anybody is trying to tell you two plus two does not equal four, that O.J. is innocent. Then maybe we can wind the film back to the beginning, and get it right this time.
It’s been 14 years since Nicole and Ron were murdered. It’s been like living on the deck of a sinking ship caught in a typhoon. The storm never lets up, it’s never over. You think you can move on but you can’t, because you’re tied to this thing, and you can’t get off. The reason nobody can get off is because the ghost of the story is still stalking us.
O.J. came as close as he will ever come to confessing last year, in his bizarre tell-all If I Did It. But he couldn’t go through with it. I see this book partly as an answer to his book—a way to finish what he started. I hope to relieve people not only of the cost of this book but of their own unresolved curiosity. Maybe that will assuage the public rage against O.J., which I also think is excessive and fairly sick. Maybe that rage will now, like a flipped searchlight, turn on me instead. But at least I will tell the truth. I can afford to. It won’t destroy me.
Ironically, before the murders, we knew O.J. to be many things; one of the best things about him was that he never lied, not to us. Now we have all been cast out into a world where truth is virtually impossible. How could we ever tell you the truth? We all live in fear of the whole truth being told, because once the story is told, everybody’s ghosts start to come out.
Let me put it this way: We are all guilty of something. I’ll start with myself—I am guilty of a whole lot.
But you have to take the whole journey with me, not just tune in when the saga began for the rest of the country, on June 13, 1994, on every TV screen in the country. We’re going to go back to the beginning, and I’ll show you exactly where I took my first wrong steps and I’ll try to explain how and why.
It wasn’t until two years ago that I finally broke ties with O.J altogether and told him never to call me again. I always said, and this shocks people, that I could forgive him the murders—I really could. Why? Because it was the worst night of his life. Because everything that night happened in the blink of an eye, and it’s that blink that nobody can comprehend—not even O.J. How can we judge him, finally, if we don’t know what happened in the fateful, dreadful blink of a moment? I tried not to, all these years. But I do judge him, now, based on everything that happened after that—the choices he has made since that terrible night.
After he got out of jail, I expected him to make amends, to be grateful for his life, to devote himself to his kids and to the people who had loved him so much over the years they even helped him get free, like I did, or just helped him, period. But he never returned the favor to any of us. He was never concerned about any of us. He just expected us to go down with the ship, except somehow he was always the only one with a life preserver.
Nothing is ever his fault, ever.
He’s also one of the most charming human beings you’d ever meet in this life. He smiles and makes you think you can fly. During the golden years, when I first met him and became his marketing agent, in 1989, up until the murders in 1994, he gave me a great life, and a great status I never had before. I have a lot to thank him for. After the murders, it never crossed my mind to abandon him, even though I knew in my heart right away that he had done it. But we all told ourselves we didn’t “know.”
Over the years, I was not unlike a battered wife, who kept vowing to leave him but never could. As he sank deeper and deeper into depravity, lies, drugs, sex, orgies, and various financial scams, I knew he was reeling from the loss of what mattered to him more than anything. He did love Nicole, very much, but what he was most protective of in this life was his image. His image was the most important thing in the world to him—that was told to me the day I went to work for him. And as the gods would have it, he went from being adored by millions to being possibly the most reviled American in public life.
If you’re too young to remember O.J. before 1994, you probably can’t imagine what a hero he was to millions of Americans. Even if you were alive back then, you probably find it very hard now to remember just how beloved O.J. was. He was white America’s favorite black man, non-threatening, charming– a black athlete and superstar who had succeeded the “proper” way, who had made it on his own merits and skills (in sports and entertainment, the two major tracks for black success at the time), who was willing even to goof on himself. At a time when many white Americans felt threatened by black males – threatened with violence, or just with racial guilt – O.J. was a very comforting presence.
Then he became, literally overnight, white America’s most hated and reviled man. Was he reviled as a man or was he reviled as a black man? Both, I think.
Overnight became the completely opposite symbol for white America to what he had been: the rampaging black male who had sex with and murdered a white woman. Even if we’re not conscious of it, this is one of the oldest and most potent symbols in American race relations, and it triggers more terror and rage in white Americans, both male and female, than probably any other. I really think that helps explain the absolutely psychotic tsunami of rage and hatred the O.J. case unleashed. He was everybody’s ideal of the “good” black male, and then he was everybody’s ideal of the evil one. I think white Americans felt massively betrayed by O. J., and that’s a big part of why white America and black America reacted so differently to his acquittal.
I don’t think he can pull himself out of this death spin he’s in. Think about it. Everywhere he goes, everyone he sees, he sees reflected in their eyes, whether they say it or not, the charge: Murderer. It’s there in every single moment of his life, with every person he meets, even when nobody says it, and even when people assure him they think he is “innocent.” It’s still there, it’s just the flip side of it. It’s still his entire identity, and it has eclipsed everything he ever was before June 12, 1994.
I wouldn’t have thought this was true, but I have come to realize that the worst possible punishment for a man is not to be given a chance to atone for his sins. I was amazed to discover, just recently, that O.J. was acquitted on Yom Kippur, the Jewish high holy day of atonement. There was one country on earth at least, where the verdict was not televised, because all electronics were shut off, and that country was Israel.
Atonement of sin is partly a necessary act—not just a merciful one– because otherwise the guilty are re-tried and re-hanged every single day of their lives. But how could we forgive him for a crime he would not admit he committed? Instead we all became trapped in a Dante-esque limbo, year in and year out, trying, and failing, to find a place on earth that was not tainted by it, where the truth didn’t reach. In the void comprised of O.J.’s denial, an industry sprang up that would give us all a chance to find our right price, to choose how exactly we would compromise ourselves. We all had something to sell, some piece of the story, some piece of the lie, or some piece of the truth. Even O.J. would become a participant in the end. By the time he had landed at the last station of his slow downfall, in Florida, living a squalid, decadent life of sex, drugs, booze, and nightclubs, he even persuaded his girlfriend, Christy Prody, to stage a threesome with him, and sell the story to a tabloid, so they could split the money.
This entire saga is an extended act of role-playing, masking, posturing, and selling to a voracious media beast that can never get enough. What I hope is different about this book is that it contains first hand experiences, and I have not altered them to make myself appear better than I am.
As the years wore on, I was one of the people who stayed with O.J, and it was not purely emotional or personal—it was business. We continued doing the business we’d done before the murders– primarily the business of sports memorabilia, of signing items and selling them—all the way up until my final break with him, two years ago. His signature was still valuable on the market, in a whole new and macabre way. I never lied to him, never told him I didn’t think he did it. Over time, I became more and more disgusted with him, and disgusted with myself, for all the lies I told for him, for everything I did to help him hide, move, and lie about his most valuable possessions, to hide his assets, to launder and shelter his money. I found myself, pretty soon, outside of society, living in a twilight world, where truth was always negotiable, where there was honor among thieves. I’m not exactly a Boy Scout myself, but I draw the line at throwing old friends under the bus, and at making your own kids pay the price for your behavior, every day of their lives. I once screamed at him: “You bastard, I hope you committed this crime because if you didn’t then all of our lives have been ruined for nothing.”
But I know he did it. He told me as much.
You are wondering why I decided to write this book now, and if it is “all about cashing in.”
Nothing is “all about” anything. I wasn’t ready before. I was still working for O.J. and I was still an apologist for him, and for myself, and all the positions we’d taken over the years, and the decisions we’d made. For me, those decisions were rooted in my enslavement to O.J.’s charm and charisma, and in wanting to turn back, mediate, and negotiate with the elephant in the room: The murders. I was in denial and I was hooked in by choices I made from day one, the day of the blast, June 12.
Now I’m not.
The simple reality is that I have a story that I know you will want to hear and I am telling it. You are free to judge me however you wish.
What follows is my story– not as I dream it, or imagine it, or would like it to be– but as it actually was. The worst part about it is, I remember every detail.
My Hero, Number 32, O.J. Simpson
People always ask me what I miss the most about the golden years, as agent to one of the most iconic American athletes of all time. The five star hotels? Flying first class? Being treated like a rock star wherever we went? The women?
All of that was intoxicating, and I enjoyed it more than I would like to admit. But what I miss the most dates back much earlier to when I was a kid, in the 8th grade. That was the last time I can remember feeling truly innocent, just before the leap into real life, when my dream world still governed me. Like every other American kid at that age, I had a hero. It happened to be O.J. Simpson.
I watched his every game, I knew his every move. He was one of four people in the world I dreamed of one day meeting.
I can remember the smell of the black magic marker and the thrill I felt as I carefully drew the number “32” on the back of my white T shirt from Sears, stretched against the linoleum kitchen table. Those of you who remember O.J. from before all this know that 32 was his number. I wore that T shirt constantly in our local football games, hollering: “I’m O.J. Simpson!” There was nobody on earth I admired more, or wanted to be more. We played football constantly in my neighborhood of Hollister, California, until long after dark most days, every weekend, every holiday, every chance we got. We drove our mothers crazy—we just wouldn’t come home. Actually, I didn’t have my mother around to battle with, but I drove my stepmother crazy enough.
My mother had us way too young, and simply couldn’t cope– left all three of us to our father. She left me first, before she left my two sisters. I was three years old when she put me on the front stoop of my grandmother’s house and drove away, assuming my grandmother was home because the curtains were moving. My grandmother was not home; I was found early the next morning in a nearby cornfield, wailing. My grandfather went out there because he thought he heard an injured animal, thought it was a cat or something. But it was me.
Things stabilized after my mother left us. My father remarried, and I became a fairly normal suburban kid.
My mother came to see me once when I was a track star in the 9th grade and somebody told her where I would be competing. My buddy Ray Sanchez said, “Hey Mike, there’s a lady here who looks just like you who claims to be your mother.” I looked up and she was coming right over to us. I stiffened, but I was glad to see her. We talked for a while, and she asked if she could drive me home, which I agreed to. I wasn’t very nice to her during the ride. She did look a lot like me.
There is so much pain in this life. One way I learned at a young age to conquer it, or at least escape it momentarily, was through sports. Once I discovered football, I was free. I loved everything about it: the excitement, the clarity, the suspense, the heroics, the perpetual chance at instant redemption. At the center of the stage of my imagination was O.J. Simspon, flying, dancing, defying gravity. He was an amazing athlete. He could turn on a dime. He had everything—speed, strength, grace, agility, and a kind of uncanny genius at acceleration. That was his most exceptional gift I think—acceleration. He could go from standing still to top speed in two steps. He was just faster than everybody else—they couldn’t catch him. He was like a god or half-god out of a Greek saga, who suddenly sprouted wings when he needed to fly. He could stop, turn, go. He could run over you, he could run around you, he could run past you. He did things on the field that I thought were physically impossible. O.J. could easily have been an Olympic track star—he was that fast. His coach at USC said he was not only the greatest running back, but the best college football player he had ever seen.
In January of 1969, I took USC against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl for twenty-five cents, in a bet with my aunt. O.J. played brilliantly, but USC lost. I was crushed, and paid up the twenty-five cents. Stung, I promised my aunt: “One day I’m going to meet O.J. Simpson and get my twenty-five cents back.”
Sometimes I wonder if God punished me for being so greedy about that quarter. But of course it wasn’t the money—it was the emotion of losing. Thirty years later, when I was his agent and we were sitting on the patio by his pool, I told O.J. that story. I asked him for the quarter. O.J. did have a great sense of humor.
“No,” he said. “Fuck you, Mike. I’m not giving you the money. Twenty-five cents? Fuck no. What the fuck do you want me to do? It wasn’t my fault we lost. That was one of my best games ever.”
In 1992, Skip Taft, O.J.’s business attorney and longtime friend, sent me a Christmas present. It was a check from O.J’s bank account for twenty-five cents. It was itemized as: “Repayment of gambling loss on 1969 Rose Bowl,” and signed by O.J.
I still have it.
I have been a sports marketing agent since the late 1980s. I was never one of those agents who only watched the bottom line—I was always emotionally attached, more than average. My childhood experience made me form fierce attachments, and to fear abandonment above all else.
In my heart I identified with the fans; I was a fan. Even when I was moving among the elite, representing the athletes, I still felt my strongest affinity not with the them but with the fans, who represented innocence—who believed in something.
My career as an agent began accidentally, in my sophomore year in high school, in 1971. A bunch of us took a Suburban to the big coliseum at Cal Berkeley to watch a Raiders-Rams pre-season game. We got there at half time. After the game we went over to the locker rooms, hoping for autographs. We saw one of the players—Ben Davisson– and without thinking, I had an inspired idea.
“Uncle Ben!” I hollered. The security guards stepped away, and we all followed “Uncle Ben” into the locker room. We got a lot of autographs that day.
Soon after that I started to understand and tap into the immense power that athletes have, to do good–raise a lot of money, fast. A friend of my brother’s had been paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident. I called the Raiders office and made arrangements for a few players to come to a fundraiser. They did. Very quickly and simply, we raised several thousand dollars for the family’s medical costs. One of the players even visited him in the hospital, which made him very happy. In that moment, I saw both the power of celebrity and the power of athletes, to do good, to give back. They are given so much because of a God-given ability—because they can run faster or jump higher. Everything is free and easy for them, as it was for O.J.
By the mid-1980s, I was continuing to do work with the Raiders, and my reputation was growing. Before long, I signed my first superstar client– Marcus Allen.
O.J. and Marcus were almost uncannily similar in their career paths. Both running backs, both alums of USC, both won the Heisman in their senior year of college, both were picked in the first round of the NFL draft. Both were expected to make immediate impacts on their NFL teams. Both were later inducted into pro football’s Hall of Fame.
I was Marcus Allen’s marketing manager for ten years. Marcus and I had a great personal and professional relationship. Before I started representing O.J., Marcus was my most famous and lucrative client. Marcus gave me instant credibility in the industry. For Marcus I handled public appearances, endorsements, and the merchandising of collegiate and NFL memorabilia. This was where my own life began to change, in the late 1980s. Suddenly, I became a member of the elite. No more flying coach, no more Best Westerns, no more Denny’s. Once I was repping Marcus, everything was five star and first class. I had money, I had influence, I had tickets to every game, backstage passes—whatever I wanted. Before long, I started to buy into this lifestyle, to believe that I “deserved” it, and to resent whenever anything fell short of my expectations. This was also the time, looking back, when all sense of innocence started to become eroded and lost.
Before long part of my job for Marcus included creating smokescreens that allowed him to more easily cheat on his lovely wife, Kathryn. I would leave false messages on his answering machine at his request—asking him to appear in fictional contexts, to give him an alibi and cover for his trysts with other women.
I did it not only for him but for other athletes. I created alternate worlds for these guys to live in. The loyalty and honesty was to the athlete—not the wife. I didn’t like that part of the job, but I did it, very well. It started to become depressing—like the part in “The Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy looks behind the curtain. I remember I used to tell people, about the world of professional sports—that from the outside it’s sort of what you see when you go to Disneyland. We created an illusion. I wanted people to think that Marcus was this witty, charming, intelligent, sensitive person, because that was the image that NIKE or Reebok or American Express wanted to portray. That’s what we do in sports marketing. We create illusions. I want little Jimmy to go to McDonalds, and on the way I want him to be bouncing a basketball with a NIKE logo on it, while wearing a NIKE jogging suit and sneakers, dreaming that he’s his favorite ball player. In sports marketing, we create that dream, that illusion, and then sell it, sell it, sell it.
Pretty soon, I became an illusion myself. I started cheating on my own wife too, even though I loved her more than anything in the world. I started thinking the only thing that mattered was not what I did but whether I got caught doing it. I started to think I was a hot shot — but I also started to like myself a little less and a little less every day. The less I liked myself, the more I had to prop up the image, to distract myself and others from who and what I had become. I started thinking I was better than and different from “ordinary” people. I moved among the gods, and although I wasn’t one myself, I was still among the elect, and I still felt I deserved royal treatment.
A few years ago I had a dream in which my grandmother, who raised me, who loved me probably more than anybody in the world, placed her hand on my leg and said: “Michael, why are you crying?” I told her I was crying because I was unhappy. She said, “Michael, you are unhappy because you have gotten so far away from who you really are. I know who you really are. You need to return to being that boy I knew and loved. Then you will be happy again.”
I woke up sobbing, and cried for a very long time. That was the turning point, when I decided never to try to get back to the privileged life, the royal, VIP treatment, or any of it. I decided to write this book, and not worry about how I might come across. Just to tell the story as honestly as possible.
There were four people in the world I truly idolized and had wanted all my life to meet: Mohammed Ali, Clint Eastwood, Elvis Presley, and O.J. Simpson. To me they embodied perfection in the American male species. Each, in their way, was a hero, an iconoclast, one who defied all expectations and rose above all the forces that threaten to drag us down in this life, make us ordinary, make us blend into the crowd and live and die without distinction. That frightened me more than anything—ordinariness. I worshipped the extraordinary.
I met Mohammed Ali, and Clint Eastwood. I never did meet Elvis. Meeting O.J., though, transcended my wildest dreams.
Here’s how it all began: Marcus Allen, who had been my star client and friend for several years, had said on a few occasions, “I can hook you up with O.J., you know.” Marcus was good friends with O.J., and had been mentored and guided by him professionally. I told him I would be thrilled if he could make the introduction, but I didn’t press the issue.
One night in 1989, late at night, I got a call. It was about 11 p.m. California time. I wondered: Who would call me at this hour? I answered the phone and a deep voice said: “This is O.J. Simpson…”
I thought Marcus was playing a joke. “Fuck you, Marcus,” I said. “What the fuck’s going on?”
“No really,” the voice said. “This is O.J. Simpson. Marcus suggested we might do some work together.”
Then I heard Marcus laughing in the background, and I froze. I put on my best professional voice and said, “Mr. Simpson, sir, I apologize. I am very honored to talk to you, and would be happy to discuss the possibility of a professional arrangement.”
O.J was very friendly and charming, said he’d heard I was the best, and he liked to only hire the best people.
We set a date and time, then O.J. put Marcus back on the phone. The plan was I would meet O.J. and his assistant Cathy Randa at his office near Brentwood in one week. I was still very star struck, and quite nervous. As the time approached, Cathy Randa called me and said O.J. wanted me to meet him at the house instead, at Rockingham. I got directions.
“One thing, Mike,” she said before we signed off. “He is very, very protective of his image. You have to be extremely careful. He can’t stand letting people down, so you mustn’t ever book him for anything if there is even the slightest chance he won’t be able to make it. Everything has to be checked and double checked. His image is everything to him.”
“Understood,” I said.
Cathy had been with him forever, and was extremely devoted to him. Sometimes it seemed she was even more protective of his image than he was. In Kathy’s eyes, the world revolved around protecting O.J. Back in the early days, that wasn’t very hard. He was a god on earth and America adored him. He was solid gold in the industry. He was the first black American athlete to score a national commercial, with Hertz car rental. That was because of all the things his image carried: He was an icon, a great athlete, and one of the great personalities of all time. He was all-American, almost post-racial– people trusted him. O.J. represented, ironically, an America that had gotten past its shameful racial history, a place where everything was going to be okay, where nothing traumatic was going to happen. He picked up more and more endorsements in the years leading up to the murders—he was very sought-after, as an icon, as a motivational speaker, a a network NFL commentator, even an actor. [Preceding graph maybe repetition]
We were all riding high on a flying carpet and that carpet was O.J. Everything he touched turned to gold, everybody loved him, everybody wanted him. He was one of those athletes that represented something that was much more than the sum of his achievements. He was the god of flight. That’s what people wanted from him. That’s why all those people lined the 405 as the white Bronco passed with those signs that said, “Go Juice!” O.J. remarked in his book that his thought when he saw those people with the signs was: When did they have time to make those signs?
Being a fan myself, it didn’t surprise me at all.
I saw it wherever we went. People wanted to touch him, shake his hand; they felt he had some kind of magic to impart, and it was all about speed, flight, and hope.
He had, after all, transcended some pretty tough odds. He’d grown up in a rough neighborhood, Portrero Hill in San Francisco, run in street gangs, gone to jail briefly as a teen, and been raised by a single mother—Eunice– after his father left her for a man.
O.J. didn’t talk about his father much, but when he did it was fairly affectionate actually. O.J. was very respectful of his elders, no matter what—especially his beloved mother. His father had done something unusual for that era—he not only came out as gay, he left the family, then stayed in the neighborhood, living an openly gay lifestyle, living with a man, and eventually getting pulled into the San Francisco bathhouse scene. There are theories that O.J.’s notorious rage was rooted in some Freudian reaction to his father’s homosexuality, but if so, you’d never have known. Then again, there were so many things O.J. kept hidden.
The most astonishing fact of O.J.’s childhood is that he had rickets—a disease of malnutrition that his mother always blamed herself for. It left him with skinny, bowlegged legs, which Eunice built homemade braces for, successfully straightening them out. He had to walk around as a child, for hours every day, in shoes that were welded together with an iron bar—if that isn’t symbolic I don’t know what is. He came from an environment of very strong, church-going and disciplinary women—his mother and his aunts. I think he developed into a fusion personality, both depending upon and raging against women’s power. The greatest terror was to be abandoned. I see this in myself as well, in the way I am with women. Sometimes I am not sure if I am talking about him, or me, or all men, or the place where all men have something in common.
Everybody adored Eunice. She was a wonderful woman and I remember her vividly—hr warmth, charisma, humor, and church-going groundedness.
People have pointed out that O.J. was actually something of a mama’s boy—he was very sensitive as a child and Eunice, who had not welcomed her third pregnancy so shortly after her previous two children, compensated for her guilt by lavishing attention on him. It was Eunice who pushed O.J. out of the ghetto and into a life of sports. She talked the baseball coach at a local high school into giving him a scholarship, but he lost it when he failed to show up for a crucial practice. O.J.’s original dream was actually to be a major league catcher.
Fate steered him onto the path of another sport instead, football.
Here is how Sheila Weller, in Raging Heart, describes O.J.’s discovery of his own talent. He was standing near a vacant lot, watching some other young people shooting off some guns.
“I had to get through that lot…I stood there and figured I was gonna run this way, then that way, then the other way—to get my ass through those bullets. I saw the course. I saw myself doing it before it happened. That was it, man: visualization.”
When I think back on this whole saga through the prism of race, class—all the things we refuse to talk about in America– I see a pretty astonishing picture. A black sports hero literally came running into white America through a blaze of bullets. That’s how he learned how to run like that—that’s how he became “O.J.” This talent for flight was the premise of his Hertz commercials—O.J. dashing, hurtling, and even flying through an airport, with that cute little old lady—remember her?—yelling “Go O.J. go!”
Nicole once said, “He’ll kill me one day and get away with it. He’ll O.J his way through it.” She very brilliantly used O.J. as a verb.
They even made a commercial in the early 90s—for an 800 collect calling company– featuring Eunice hurtling over her rose bushes to get to a phone when O.J. called. It was very funny—we loved it. I remember the contract too. Eunice got $50,000 to shoot the commercial, and O.J. got $100,000 just to agree not to make a competing commercial that year. That was probably the best contract I ever negotiated for him—he was thrilled. He got paid 100 grand just to not do something he wasn’t going to do anyway, and it put money in his mother’s pocket.
But back to his youth. O.J. was not a thug or even a particularly tough guy. He had a lot of femininity in him, you might say. He was in equal parts disciplined and indulged. He had been relentlessly teased about his father’s homosexuality, as well as about the size of his large head, his crooked legs, and the thing he hated most—his name. Orenthal was a name given to him by one of his aunts who mistook it for the name of a famous French actor. He turned it into “O.J.” (because his middle name is James,) and never looked back.
Even beyond his athletic genius, I think O.J. was feeding us fantasies at a deeply subconscious level, like the dream of a post-racial America, where everything is forgiven and redeemed. Or rather, we were conjuring this ourselves, through him. By the time I started watching him play and started idolizing him, like so many millions of white American sports fans, his background had been burnished off and he was simply “O.J.”
Sheila Weller dug up some pretty amazing tidbits, though, that are a powerful reminder of how openly racist the world of sports still was when O.J. came up, in the late 1960s, and became a USC star. She quotes a profile of O.J. in SC’s daily Trojan that kind of takes your breath away when you read it, and shatters the often quoted fallacy that O.J. “wasn’t really black.”
The newspaper wrote of the young athlete: “His environment shows through in his grammatical inconsistencies in his deep rumbling speech, but he absorbs and understands as well as any man.”
O.J. himself didn’t dwell on racism much, it’s true. Or rather, not before the murders, he didn’t. He was very strict about people never uttering the “n” word around him, but he himself made constant jokes about race, especially with Nicole. One story that came out in one of the books was that O.J. used to walk in to the bathroom when any white (male) houseguest was taking a shower and yell: ‘Hey Nicole, get in here and get a good look at what a white man’s penis looks like!”
Everything in our world was lighthearted, jovial, fast-paced. We were on top of the world. We weren’t standing around trying to be perfect citizens. Now it’s as though everything any of us ever said or did—especially O.J.– is a piece of the mosaic that culminated with and around the murders. But the murders were an alien event, something totally other, shocking, irreconcilable and un-knowable. We could not then and can not today reconcile that crime with the O.J. Simpson we knew before.
O.J. was a proud American. He flew the flag in his back yard. I’m not sure how he voted, but if I had to guess, I’d guess Republican. He was not a radical of any kind, didn’t like politics, was fearful of the hippie culture in the 60s, and didn’t like what he called “marginal” figures—people who dabbled in drugs or crime, or people who “made excuses.” This was one of the clashing points at the end his marriage to Nicole—he was furious that she allowed people who he felt were dingy, drug-dabbling characters, especially Faye Resnick and her crowd, to be around her, and especially around the kids. [repetition?]
People speculate, probably correctly, that much of this rage stemmed from the fact that his father abandoned the family, lived an openly gay lifestyle, and eventually got roped into the gay bathouse culture and the drugs that came with it, to die of an AIDS-related cancer.
In a 1976 Playboy interview, O.J. described his childhood with characteristic romanticism: “To me, Portrero Hill was America The Beautiful, and I think most people who lived there felt the same way. At World Series time everybody would crowd around a radio and listen to the games, and when the national anthem was played, the whole room would stand up. Everybody—mothers, fathers, kids—would be on their feet.”
To me, one of the tragedies of the whole O. J. saga – I mean besides the central tragedy of the murders – is that America lost this O.J., and O.J. lost that America. A lot of Americans felt he betrayed them, and so they betrayed him back.
As I said before, you probably can’t imagine today that O.J. was so loved and admired, but it was still true in 1994, in the months before the murders brought it all crashing down. That whole year had been a great one for us—we were on top of the world. I had secured many new and lucrative contracts for both O.J. and Marcus. We were attending World Series games, NBA playoff games, Super Bowls, parties everywhere. O.J. was a broadcaster for NBC sports, was on the board of directors for Swiss Army, was doing countless gigs as a representative of Hertz rental car, and had started filming the Naked Gun movies. He did the coin toss at the 1993 Super Bowl in Pasadena.
Even Presidents wanted his attention, wanted to meet him. Just weeks before the murders, in the spring of 1994, one of President Clinton’s security people came over to O.J. at the Riviera and asked if he wanted to play golf with the President the next day.
O.J., in genuine confusion, replied, “The president of what?”
“The President of the United States.”
“Oh! That President. Sure.”
So the next day, sure enough, they played golf. I was disgusted when O.J. told me this, because I despise the Clintons. O.J. and I argued about it a bit. He said, “Mike, if you met him you’d like him.”
“No I wouldn’t.”
“Mike,” O. J. said, “no matter who is in the White House, it’s always good if they’re your friend.”
I remember him telling me that he’d made a putt that impressed Clinton, and that O.J. had cracked, “That’s why they call me the Juice.” Then Clinton made a putt and said, “That’s why they call me the Prez.”
O.J. told me that Clinton had waxed enthusiastic about Anna Nicole Smith, who had a small part in Naked Gun. He had drawled, “I saw her and I said…there goes the White House.” O.J. was much less enthusiastic about Ms. Smith, but I don’t want to quote what he said about her.
Also around this time, spring of 1994, I had been negotiating to have Ronald Reagan, who was a big sports fan, sign 1000 baseballs. His representatives were interested in this, and also said that President Reagan wanted to meet O.J. We worked very hard on scheduling a lunch, with the three of us, but O.J.’s Naked Gun shooting schedule made it impossible.
I was very disappointed. Ronald Reagan was my favorite President.
June 13, 1994: The Call
It was shaping up to be a perfect weekend. My two star clients, O.J. and Marcus Allen, were both taking off on trips that weekend, all their contracts were in good shape, and I was finally taking a real vacation.
I am an experienced rock climber, and my favorite place on earth is Yosemite. It’s where I go to find solace and peace, but it’s also something a little more complicated. My sister says I used to climb very deftly, in order not to fall, but that now, after all that happened, I seem to do the opposite. I think she’s right. I’m a coward, I guess. But often I have thought, one single wrongly-placed foot and I could fall into a place where nobody has a name, or a face, or a history—where nobody ever heard of O.J. Simpson, and where all of us are as loved and connected as we were when our souls entered time and space.
It was my weekend with my kids from my first marriage, and my son David said he wanted to come with me to Yosemite, while my daughter Chrissy decided to stay home with my wife, Debbie, her stepmother. The weather was balmy and warm that time of summer, early June. Our lives were pretty great. Money was good, business was good, everybody was healthy. The only thing that was clouding my mind at all was the problem with O.J.—the thing Skip and I had discussed.
The last time I spoke to O.J. was the day before we left for Yosemite, June 10th. His voice and diction were bizarrely altered. He sounded so strange, so dark, I thought somebody was pretending to be him on the phone. Imagine playing on a record player an album that has melted in the sun and become warped. O.J. had first sounded like that to me on June 3nd, when I called him from the Hyatt Hotel in Kansas City to ask why the hell he hadn’t signed and returned a $100,000 endorsement contract. That, first of all, was totally unlike him. In business, he was stellar and 100% dependable. He always told me never to book him on anything if there was even a remote chance he couldn’t make it. Now all of a sudden he wouldn’t answer his phone and ignored a barrage of pleas from me to sign the thing and fax it back before we lost the deal. When I finally got him on the phone, he sounded like a slowed-down audiotape version of himself. His voice was so dark and deep, his intonation so strange and foreign, I actually didn’t think it was him. Everything about him was different—everything.
I wondered in passing whether he might have had a stroke. Either that or he was on something.
I was very worried, and also like I said, literally unsure if this voice on the phone was really O.J.
I asked him what year he won the Heisman.
He answered groggily, “1968.”
“And what year did you run 2003 yards?”
I hung up and called Skip Taft, O.J.’s business attorney, mentor, and guiding light since two decades.
“Skip,” I said, “what’s wrong with him?”
Skip sighed, in the sloping, gentle-father manner he had when things got rough, and I remember verbatim what he said: “Mike, Nicole has O.J. so fucked up, he doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going.”
I was silent.
“OK.” I said.
Skip asked me to fax the contract to him, and said he would take it over to O.J.’s house, at Rockingham, have him sign it, and fax it back to me, which he later did.
“Thanks buddy,” I said. “Love ya. I’ll talk to you when I get back from Yosemite.”
I said the same thing to OJ, breezily, the day before we left, when I told him I would not be reachable for a few days, and wished him luck in Chicago, on the Hertz golf outing. “If you need anything, call the house,” I told him. “I’ll be checking in every few days.”
We’d all been witnessing things deteriorate between O.J. and Nicole, for about a year before the murders. It got worse and worse, and reached an all time low point starting on Mother’s Day, 1994. That was when things really spun out.
In the nine months weeks leading up to the murders, O.J. and Nicole were in that very brittle phase couples can get into in which they have broken their bond, but not accepted it. They were trying to have it both ways, both if them—being together and not being together. In the months leading up to the murders, things got steadily more complicated and freighted. Nicole had rather actively been trying to get back together with OJ for some time, calling him constantly, and springing surprise visits on him at out of town at events, which was not good because he had other women around, always. It fell upon me and Kathy Randa to make sure we could clear the runways in time for Nicole’s surprise arrivals.
O.J. liked it when Nicole was chasing him, though he sometimes felt oppressed by it. Sometimes I remember Nicole would call, O.J. would put her on hold, and just leave her there, then not answer when she called back. Nicole, for her part, had not reacted well to being put out of the castle—Rockingham—where she was queen. In her condo, lavish though it was, she lost status, she was just another rich California divorcee–no longer the wife of an icon. She was pushing hard to move back into Rockingham and really make it work again. O.J. basically shunned her. The simple truth is, he was enjoying all his other women, and he also liked keeping Nicole dangling, so long as the roles remained the way they always had been. Nicole was a spitfire—had a real temper. She was nice after one drink, quiet after two, after three drinks she became very mean and by her fourth drink she was raving lunatic. She was not a good drunk. When the two of them would start to fight, the squirrels and rabbits would dive into the deepest holes in the ground and stay there. It was not fun to be around.
I was with O.J. on October 25, 1993, the day of the now famous 911 call that Nicole made, pleading for cops to come save her from O.J. who had virtually broken down the door. I remember it for several reasons: Number one, it was my wedding anniversary, number two, I have never ever experienced O.J. in a mood that foul, not even when he was in jail. O.J. was filming one of the scenes in the Naked Gun movie in the Shrine auditorium in L.A., and I’d driven down to get some footballs signed and work on some business affairs in between scenes, in his downtime. I had my son Luke with me. Normally O.J. was incredibly charming, charismatic, high energy, but on this occasion he was just in a horrible, very foul mood. I finally said, “O.J. what’s the matter?”
He said: “It’s just more Nicole…bullshit.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Oh it’s just more of her fucking bullshit. I’m just fucking tired of it.
He always said, afterwards, that his mood that day was perfectly normal, but that is a total lie.
I remember looking at my watch and saying, “It’s my anniversary O.J. If I don’t get to the restaurant in time for dinner, I’ll have another ex wife.”
I remember he said, “Well that’s the last mother fucking thing you want is another ex wife.”
He wound up going over to Nicole’s house on Gretna Green that night, and that was the night of the 911 call. Something obviously set him off, beyond the by then 6 month old news that he’d found Nicole giving oral sex to bartender named Keith Slowowitz in her living room, with the kids asleep upstairs, when he came over to spy on her. At the time, O.J. told me he had rung the doorbell and left, just to let them know he’d been there.
I don’t know what it was that enraged him that day, or that night, October 25th, 1993. I talked to him the next day. He told me what had happened—that Nicole had “wound up” calling 911—and immediately started justifying it. He said they were just “talking,” and that he was urging her to be careful how, when and with whom she “fooled around.” He felt that Keith Slowowitz– a bartender she had dated on and off– was beneath her, and he didn’t want people like him around the kids.
Nicole had retorted: “O.J., I don’t want you stopping by here uninvited. You have no reason to come here uninvited, ever.” She was basically telling him he was a stalker. And she was right.
I remember O.J. trying to sell me on a convoluted scenario involving his foot being in the door when she was trying to close it. “I didn’t break the door down. Mike, she was trying to close the door on my foot.” I remember in that moment when he was telling me I didn’t believe him. I didn’t believe a word he was saying and he was starting to exhaust me, from the energy it took just to play along. It was starting to become a very simple pattern: Everybody else is wrong, always. O.J is never wrong. Never.
The 911 story wound up in The National Enquirer, and according to Faye Resnick, O.J. called Nicole when she was on her way to the airport with Faye to go on a trip, and said: ‘Get a copy of the National Enquirer at the airport. In it was an account of not only the 911 call, but also of O.J. and Nicole’s attempted marital reconciliation. It was so detailed, O.J. was certain it must have been leaked by somebody in Nicole’s inner circle.
O.J. did love Nicole very deeply, but he was also very angry at her for the way he felt she treated him. He felt that without him she would have been just another uneducated girl, a waitress, and that because of him, she lived a millionaire’s life. He felt she was disrespectful, despite the fact that everything she had was because of him. I never liked her, and I am not going to pretend I did because she was murdered. I wish she were alive. The avalanche started with a few pebbles: Everything that could go wrong in the weeks and days leading up to the murders, did go wrong.
Emotionally, what was going on with O.J. was that Nicole had rejected him in a very final and for him, humiliating way. She had communicated: ‘I don’t need you. Get lost.” This happened as a final result of his rejection of her, when, in the months and weeks before her death, she tried to persuade him to let her move back into Rockingham. He rebuffed her, and finally she said, well the hell with it then. That was when she really started showing O.J. in no uncertain terms that she did not want or need anything from him. She repeatedly told him this. But the simple truth remained that she did need him, if nothing else, for financial support. Everything she had, he had bought—the house, the Ferrari, the breast implants. In fact, I remember O.J. telling me how much Nicole had changed, for the worse, after she got breast implants. He said she was never the same after that.
In the last weeks of her life, she had done a complete about face, and stopped doing the same dance steps that the two of them were somehow accustomed to. She just pushed him straight away from her, as though she was truly truly finished with him. Her new friend Faye Resnick encouraged her in this direction. Faye was telling her: “You don’t need him,” and encouraging Nicole to come out and party and develop a new life with new friends, which she did.
O.J. and Nicole had been fighting for seventeen years at that point. They had divorced in 1992, but as various books—including O.J.’s—have described, they still had a stormy, addictive, passionate relationship that kept them bound to one another, through countless brawls, splits, reconciliations, and even serious beatings resulting in the now infamous 911 calls. They knew how to push each other’s buttons and they knew when and how to stop. O.J. would kick down a door, bash Nicole’s car, “get into a tussle” with her as he put it—that is, hit her.
I am as guilty as we all are of looking the other way when it should have been obvious that O.J. was abusing Nicole. Did we now know or did we not want to know, or both?
In Nicole’s diary, she describes a return from a Disney On Ice event when she was pregnant with Justin in 1988. We see a very different O.J. than the one who “loved Nicole” and was himself a victim of domestic abuse. Nicole wrote:
We went to the show and when we got back he was still gone. When he and A.C. [Al Cowlings, O.J.’s friend and driver] got back A.C. seemed strange, like he was waiting for something to happen, that they might have discussed. He kissed Mama, Mini, but not me, which is weird for A.C. O.J. was drunk. Mama and Mini felt something too. They started to leave and O.J. started saying things about not being invited. No room for him. I said that he made excuses all week. Well, he followed Mini and Mama out the door rattling 100 miles per hour about what a liar I am. He never stopped. He followed Sydney and I around the house “Please, don’t yell and scream in front of Sydney.” So A.C. grabbed her. And I tried to get away from her so she wouldn’t have to hear it. He never let up. You’re a fat pig. You’re disgusting. (I’m two months pregnant.) You’re a slob. I want you out of my fucking house. Then I took Sydney to bed, tried to anyway. And he proceeded to cut me down with A.C. in the entry downstairs. I tried to tape the conversation but the recorder didn’t work. He was saying all those things again so that I could hear every word as he was telling A.C. My wife’s a fat ass, a liar. I stopped fucking other girls and now I jack off the fat ass.
He locked me out of our room and I buzzed him. Get out of my fucking house you fat ass liar. He opened the door and started off on me again. I want you to have an abortion with the baby. So I packed a few things together. He locked the door again. I buzzed. Do I really have to go tonight. Sydney is sleeping. It’s late.
Let me tell you how serious I am. I have a gun in my hand right now. Get the fuck out of here. I got real scared and grabbed Sydney and the cats and a bag for her and a bottle and a pair of sweats from the laundry room for me and got the heck out of the house.
When this was read to A.C. when he was being deposed in O.J.’s 1996/97 civil trial, he claimed to have no memory of the event. It must have been devastating for A.C. to hear Nicole’s words. Her torture and conflict are reflected so clearly in everything she wrote–the combination of submission and strength, of trying to get close and trying to get through to O.J., to make him hear her.
Maybe Al was just suppressing the memory. We all did a lot of suppressing. I myself have much more sympathy for Nicole now, especially now that I myself in some sense have completed the entire path of O.J.’s charisma and managed to break the spell. If you’d asked me if Nicole was a battered wife prior to the murders, I’d have said no. There was the one incident, the 911 call in October of ’93, but O.J. spun that his way, and although we didn’t believe him, the incident was soon forgotten. Just like Nicole’s friends and family, we were blinded by the fact that she herself seemed so in love with O.J. and was always back in his arms no matter what. It was a combination of a traditional marriage and a modern one. O.J. was a domineering authoritarian, a controlling patriarch, a sounding board, friend, and quasi-ex-husband. Nicole both wanted to be free of O.J. and begged him to put her back in her cage. Neither of them could make up their minds.
Each of them had their allies and confidantes, and I was of course strictly on O.J.’s “side.” When he asked me if I thought he should get back together with Nicole, I always said, “No way.” I didn’t think it would ever be different, and I was exhausted myself, seeing O.J. always so strung out, angry, and unpredictable. Every day it was something else. If Nicole pissed him off, he took it out on us—on whoever was working with him that day. But he had two distinct faces—charming, public O.J. and crabby, enraged O.J.
They had other lovers and separate lives, and they continued to weigh down their already frayed bond with transgressions and confessions. I am not going to attempt to de-thread this dynamic, because I think O.J. has given his side of the story and, through friends who spoke over the years on the record, we got Nicole’s side too.
There is no disagreement on any side about the simple, essential facts: They had a very powerful love and bond, and they were obsessed with each other. They both tried to be by turns married, a family, separated, independent, single, free, diffident, relaxed, jealous, predatory, or whatever. They just shifted in and out of all this in a kind of incoherent dance only they understood. Everybody else they got involved with became a mere accessory, a way for them to hurt the other.
With each new lover, they were just feeding their addiction to the one thing that was the core of their lives—the other. They switched roles on and off—who was most angry, jealous, thwarted, or solicitous. It is true that Nicole worked very hard at persuading O.J. to take her back and let her and the kids move back into Rockingham the year leading up to her death, and it is true that O.J. rebuffed her. He enjoyed being free to date other women, and he also enjoyed, to an extent, watching Nicole crawl, when she did. When she stopped chasing him, he absolutely hated it.
We all had to listen to O.J. bitch about Nicole, ad nauseum. We had to help him dodge her calls and her surprise visits, we had to help him keep his other women away from Nicole’s notice and keep her away from them. It was very stressful for everybody, because they both would go from one set of emotions to the opposite at the flick of a switch. They were both ragers, and they could also both suddenly turn to ice.
Deep down, Nicole always loved and adored O.J. no matter what was going on between them, and he absolutely felt the same about her. But at the very end, he started to become so icy toward her that it slowly generated a new feeling in her: contempt.
I witnessed this personally. He would hang up on her, leave her on hold when she called, not call her back for days on end. Nicole—who was hellbent on reconciling at this point in time– was just made more and more desperate by this rejection, and she started acting “crazy” and “bitchy.” It was during this time that she would show up at Rockingham and start slapping his staff, or making bizarre demands.
She was hanging out with her new gang of friends, with Faye Resnick at the center, and Faye was also O.J.’s confidant. Faye would field calls from the two of them, often at the same time, clicking back and forth, and God only knows what advice that woman gave out. She probably lied to both of them. We know she was more or less in love with Nicole, from her breathless recounting, in her book, of a kiss they once shared on a bed. My impression was that Faye influenced Nicole to make a real, final, unequivocal break from O.J. When she finally did, just days before her murder, it was because she herself had begun to truly dislike and disdain him.
Why? Because he crossed a new line of cruelty. Nicole was falsely claiming a tax break by telling the IRS she lived at Rockingham and was renting out the Bundy condo. O.J. had one of his lawyers send her a letter threatening to turn her in to the IRS. That was when Nicole truly, once and for all, decided she was “done” with O.J. That was why she didn’t invite him to sit with the family at Sydney’s dance recital, or to join the family for dinner at Mezzaluna later that night. He had already been indifferent to the kids, and to her, on the numerous occasions when she turned up at the house crying and begging to be let in. But this was spite taken to a whole new level, and she simply shut down.
Nicole wrote her in her diary:
O.J. came to pick up kids at 8:30 p.m. This is June 3,1994. They wanted to stay home because I let them organize sleepovers at last minute. Thought daddy wasn’t coming. Told O.J. I’d drop them off first thing in the morning. He said okay. Then “you hung up on me last night. You’re gonna pay for this bitch. You’re holding money from the IRS. You’re going to jail you fucking cunt. You think you can do any fricking thing you want. You’ve got it coming. I’ve already talked to my lawyers about this bitch. They’ll get you for tax evasion bitch. I’ll see to it. You’re not gonna have a fucking dime,” et cetera. This was all being said as Sydney’s girlfriend Allegra was being dropped off. They may have already walked into the house. I’m not sure if they had heard all or any of it. I just turned around and walked away.
The perfect storm was brewing, and it didn’t take long. It was a rogue tornado that one could even argue took shape on that very day—on June 12.
Nicole, with Faye’s counseling, had planned very carefully how she would shun O.J. at Sydney’s middle school dance recital that afternoon. It was partly in retaliation for his cruelty to her and his increasing disregard for the kids. He had previously failed to show up for Sydney’s confirmation reception. Also, Nicole was furious about the IRS letter.
So Nicole, and by extension her family, cut O.J. off cold, even refusing to let him sit near them at the recital. He had to sit behind them. Then, when the family went out to dinner at the restaurant Mezzaluna afterward, O.J. was explicitly not invited.
If you knew how enmeshed all these people were, you’d understand how extreme that was. Something was clearly marked on June 12: Nicole was finished with O.J. and showing him that she “didn’t need” him. Kato Kaelin later testified that O.J. came home from the recital really angry about it. It had started a fire in his mind. He always ranted about how his money paid for everything Nicole had, so this was a sore spot, and her independence could only ever be a kind of pretend action. She was not independent and couldn’t be. She had never worked a day in her life. O.J. felt like he owned her, and her family.
So there she was treating him with a level of distance and even disdain he’d never seen before – and wearing a very short, tight dress, in his mind provoking him and taunting him. None of his friends were around to talk him down, and he just went into a very bad tailspin. The dance was over.
A little past 9:30, Nicole’s mother Juditha called Mezzaluna because she’d left her glasses there. Ron Goldman, a Mezzaluna employee, arranged to drop them off at Nicole’s. Some time between 10 and 11 p.m., somebody went into Nicole’s house and killed them both. At about 11:15, O.J. climbed into an airport limousine, and at 11:45 his flight left for Chicago. He would never come up with much of an alibi for where he was and what he was doing during the crucial period that the murders occurred.
I believe there was one more fatal element to that night: Nicole had been having an on-again off-again affair with Marcus Allen. Marcus Allen, O.J.’s good friend and protégé. Marcus Allen, my friend and client. I did not know this at the time. I know this because Marcus himself told me so, not long after the murders. So did O.J. I’ll describe those conversations in more detail later.
According to Faye Resnick, despite O.J.’s threat that he would kill Nicole if she started seeing Marcus again, she did. Her friends told her this was like signing her own death warrant. They were horrified to find Marcus’ car in her driveway on some days, right out in the open, when O.J. could drive past. They were very afraid of this affair, of her seeming nonchalance about it, and believed it could get her killed. Marcus, after all, was not only one of O.J.’s best friends, you could say he was a younger version of O.J. He never expressed rage toward Marcus directly—that part is true—but he was definitely enraged about it.
Faye Resnick said that when she spoke to Nicole on June 12, she was on “cloud nine” because of Marcus, whom she was in love with, and who she said was the second love of her life after O.J. Faye concluded that Nicole “…had seen Marcus that day, or she was going to see him. I knew how she got when she was going to be with him.”
Marcus Allen is the one person who has managed to miraculously stay out of this entire mess, and I also think it was he who caused it. I have always thought that, even though Marcus flew to the Cayman Islands late on the night of June 12 with his wife Kathryn, he was with Nicole either that day or earlier that night. At her house. And O.J. saw them together.
I believe that if it weren’t for Marcus Allen, June 12, 1994, would have come and gone like any other summer night, and that Nicole and Ron would still be alive.
When I spoke to O.J. on June 10th, the day before we left for Yosemite, I told him I would not be reachable for a few days, and wished him luck in Chicago, on the Hertz golf outing.
“If you need anything, call the house,” I told him. “I’ll be checking in every few days.”
On June 11, David and I climbed the Royal Arches—a fairly short climb. The next day, June 12, we woke early and hiked to the top of Yosemite falls, looking out over Lost Arrow Spire. That was my Moby Dick—the one climb I had never done. I had been scheduled to do it 10 years previously, but my then-wife, Gerilyn, told me she had a dream that if I climbed it I would die, so I never did. On this crisp, perfectly still morning, David said, “Dad, let’s do it.”
“Okay, let’s,” I said right away. I decided to hire a guide, and we set off down to the bottom of Yosemite Falls to use the payphone and call home to tell them what our plans were. I got the answering machine at the house and started leaving a message for my wife Debbie. She picked up the phone, and cut me off.
“Mike,” she said, “Nicole’s been murdered and O.J. is in handcuffs. You need to get to Rockingham.”
After a brief silence, I said, “So he finally did it.”
Debbie shut off the answering machine.
“God. What did you say? How could you say such a thing? Why would you think that?”
Everything was already filmy, nauseating, unreal, like after a car crash.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know why I said that.”
I tried to steady my mind. I remembered that O.J. was scheduled to fly to Chicago the night before, and I clung to that. I immediately started looking for reasons to believe he didn’t do it. David was in shock, pale and quiet.
“David, we got to go.”
We packed up our stuff and hightailed it out of there. I must have been driving 100 mph on the straightaway stretches. We had no radio or phone reception for a good hour, until we got to a town called Oakhurst. I turned on the radio and the story was everywhere. I started making calls on my cellphone. This being 1994, my cellphone was the size of a small suitcase. But it worked. I called all of O.J.’s numbers, not expecting to reach him but wanting to get a message through to him. I called everybody.
When I finally walked in the front door to my home in Hanford, Debbie was in front of the TV and the story was on every single channel. There was O.J. with his hands cuffed behind his back, leaning under a branch overhanging Sydney’s playhouse at Rockingham. I was totally lost, slightly out of my own body. The phone literally rang off the hook. Friends, business associates, clients—everybody was calling. I finally got to the point where I just answered the phone by saying, “I can’t talk,” click, “I can’t talk,” click, “I can’t talk,” click.
The inner circle, the outer circle, and every possible layer of any O.J. circle that ever existed was calling my house. People we were doing business with, with whom we had signed various sorts of contracts, were wondering what to expect, whether they would get their money back.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” I said. “The guy’s wife’s been murdered and he’s in handcuffs. We have to wait and see. I don’t know any more than you do.”
Then there was the gang—those of us who actually interacted with O.J. on a daily basis. We became like a crisis unit, like a Red Cross tent, trying to act normal in an extremely abnormal situation. All I remember from our conversations back then is that they had that underwater, strange quality, like when you have severe jetlag. Every word you’re hearing and speaking is something foreign to you that you’d never think you’d hear or speak.
One conversation that still stands out in my memory 14 years later was the one I had with Marcus Allen, whom I reached that first day, the 13th. Everything about it was puzzling and peculiar. It didn’t make sense–then.
I called Marcus’ house and got his sister in law on the phone. She said Marcus and his wife Kathryn were in the Cayman Islands, which I knew. They had flown out late the night before.
“Does Marcus know what’s going on?” I asked.
“Tell him I need him to call me.”
Marcus called moments later.
“You know what’s going on?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said. He asked me how I was.
“Blown away,” I said. I asked Marcus what I thought was a rhetorical question: “Are you coming back?”
I expected him to say, “Of course, are you crazy?”
Instead he said, “No.”
“What? Why?” I asked, absolutely blindsided. “You’re going to the funeral, aren’t you?”
Again he said flatly, “No.”
I couldn’t comprehend anything anymore. Marcus and Kathryn has gotten married in O.J.’s living room. He had been friends with O.J. and Nicole since he was in college.
“Mike, it’s going to be a media zoo,” he explained. “It’s going to be nuts. You shouldn’t go either.”
I remember saying to myself, well, if one of their closest friends isn’t going to the funeral, I certainly don’t have to go. So I let myself off the hook too. To this day, I regret it. I never liked Nicole, and she never liked me, but I should have gone to her funeral.
That the one of my first mistakes. I think the deeper reason I wanted an excuse not to go was that I had started to feel that O.J. did it, and I didn’t know how I would face him or what I would say.
I got off the phone with Marcus and resumed calling O.J.’s house. I finally got an answer—it was Gigi, the housekeeper.
Gigi sounded very nervous. I said to her, “Tell O.J. if there is anything at all that I can do, I’m here. And tell him…I’m sorry.”
The phone kept ringing ceaselessly over the next few days. This was when the whirlwind started to become a typhoon. I was trying to stay under it all, and yet at the same time, on top of it all. I called the house again and told Gigi to tell O.J. that I was going to be at the Hyatt near the airport, standing by with $5,000 cash, or whatever else O.J. might need.
On June 17, the day O.J. was to voluntarily turn himself in to the authorities, I got in my car and started driving toward Los Angeles—a four hour drive. As I got about 100 miles north of L.A., it came on the news that O.J. was wanted by the police and that they were actively searching for him. I thought Jesus, did he kill himself? Is he that spun? I called every number I ever had for him—cell, car, everything. Then suddenly O.J.’s friend and lawyer Bobby Kardashian came on and started reading O.J.’s suicide note. I could not believe anything that was happening was actually happening. I am a staunch atheist but I think I started praying: Please don’t let him throw his life away. We can get through this. What time did his flight leave again? He couldn’t have done this. This will all be straightened out.
I got to the Hyatt, went to my room, and called O.J.’s cell. “O.J. it’s Mike. I’m at the Hyatt hotel and I have $5,000 cash. If you need to reach me call my cell. Whatever you need, I’m here.”
I turned on the TV, and within seconds they broke into the NBA championship game and showed grainy footage of a car chase. The newscaster said: “The vehicle you are seeing contains O.J. Simpson on the 91 Freeway, in flight from police cars who are pursuing him.”
My hotel phone rang. It was the hotel operator. “Mr. Gilbert, there is someone who called for you. They said they don’t know your last name but they have a package for you from UPS.”
That sounded implausible. Nobody knew where I was, and I most definitely wasn’t expecting any package. I told her that if they called back, to put the call through. Seconds later the phone rang again and a voice said: “Mike? You don’t know me. I live near O.J. and I know him from the cellphone store where I work. He and I once had the same cell number by mistake…”
“Yeah, right. I doubt anybody who lives in Brentwood works in a cellphone store. How stupid do you think I am? Who are you?”
It was obviously either the cops or the tabloids, picking up every message that went to O.J.’s cell. The guy continued: “Do you expect O.J. to call you back? What did you mean ‘If you need anything?’”
The TV was showing the white Bronco on the 405 now. I hung up, ran out of my room and jumped into my car. I knew O.J. was going home, to Rockingham. As soon as I got onto Sepulveda heading toward the 405 I looked toward the southeast and saw a swarm of helicopters; I knew that was where O.J. was. By the time I merged onto the 405 I was about a mile behind him. I exited on Sunset Boulevard and headed toward Rockingham.
As I got close to the house, the streets were blocked by police barricades. Media everywhere. I parked the car near Cora Fischman’s house and started walking as close as I could get. Another barricade. The cops told me O.J. had not yet surrendered, and that nobody was coming in or out until he had. I showed them every piece of ID I had.
“I’m his manager,” I pleaded. “Let me talk to him. I need to get in there.”
A cop asked how they could be sure I was who they said I was. “Look,” I said, showing them my cellphone. I dialed O.J.’s house, and a police officer answered.
“This is Mike Gilbert ,” I said. “I am O.J.’s manager. I need to talk to him.”
Then all of a sudden I overheard some reporters saying that they had SWAT teams in the trees, because O.J. had a gun. The word was they were going to shoot him. I wheeled around to the nearest cop and got right up in his face.
“If you fuckers kill him there will be hell to pay. Do you understand? Let me talk to him.” At this point I was panicked. Suddenly O.J. was a black man with a gun surrounded by SWAT teams. I was in a cold sweat, walking in circles, mumbling and praying that he would surrender. That was all I wanted at that point. “Surrender Juicer, goddamit,” I muttered. I used to call him Juicer.
I don’t know if twenty minutes passed, or three hours, but finally, I heard what I wanted to hear– O.J. was in police custody. I felt a radiating wave of relief through my whole body. The police car with O.J. handcuffed in the back seat drove right past us, less than ten feet away. I could see O.J. in there, frozen, looking straight ahead. He looked like a wax figure of himself. The reporters started to walk back toward the main entrance road, like a herd just fed and moving on. I walked back to my car, feeling absolutely physically and emotionally drained. I got into my car and just sat there, relieved that he was in custody — that he was still alive.
O.J. In Jail: The Show Must Go On
O.J. had been in jail for about four days when I received a phone call from Cathy Randa. I was driving back from San Diego, from a meeting with the Ted Williams card company, when I got the call. Cathy said, “Mike, O.J. wants to meet with you. Do you want to go see him?”
Randa explained how to get to the jail, where to park, how to get past the media hordes outside the jail, and who to look for when I got there.
“Nicole will meet you there,” she said.
“Yes, Nicole Pulvers—from the attorney’s office.”
Nicole Pulvers was a paralegal assigned to stay with O.J. at all times and communicate his needs to the rest of the dream team. She was more or less his babysitter.
I drove to the Los Angeles County Jail, walked past the media hordes, into the jailhouse. Nicole found me, and I started going through all the security checks. When they ran my name though the computer, they said I was not approved to go in, as “material witnesses” had not yet been approved. Nicole went in to explain the situation to O.J. and I waited in the lobby.
When she came back a short while later, she had a note for me O.J. had dictated. It said: “Mike, I need you now more than ever. Imagine: O.J. Simpson, L.A. County Jail. My autograph is worth more than anybody alive.”
I looked at Nicole.
“Is this what he wanted you to give me?”
“Yes,” she said. “He dictated it and made sure I wrote it down, word for word.”
“Why didn’t he write it himself?” I asked.
“He can’t be given a pencil,” she said.
I stared at the note in shock. For Christ’s sake, I thought, here his wife has been dead less than a week and he’s already thinking about business. I was floored. But I quickly regained my composure and my mind started clicking. O.J.wanted to start signing autographs again, despite the fact that he was in jail—or rather, precisely because he was in jail.
Skip, Cathy and I were divided on it. Cathy felt very strongly that there should be no business while O.J. was in jail. Skip considered the matter carefully, then told us, “Look, we need to generate money. We are going to do this in good taste.”
Skip Taft, O.J.’s business attorney for over two decades at that time, was and is the most stellar, upright, ethical, and dignified man I have ever known—just a beautiful human being. Whatever Skip said, I trusted. He was like a living incarnation of Atticus Finch—about six foor three, with silver hair.
I remember speaking to Skip two or three days after the murders. We had lunch at our usual place, the Daily Grill. I told Skip that I had been getting a blizzard of calls from all the companies we were doing business with. We discussed how to handle ourselves, businesswise, what to say to people.
Toward the end of the meeting, I finally asked him, “Skip, what do you think is going on? What do you think is happening?”
He looked at me, and said, “Mike, I have known O.J. for 23 years and I have never known him to lie to me. He said he didn’t do it. Until he says otherwise, I will believe him.”
I respected that, then. I still do. But things got a lot more complicated, pretty fast. Now when I look back on what Skip said that day I feel a nostalgia for that moment in time, when Skip believed in O.J.’s innocence and that meant we could too.
Guilt and innocence always seemed so clear to me before I landed in the middle of this. I am ashamed of much of what I did, but not all of it. The thing I am looking really closely at is loyalty and disloyalty. I like to think we acted as good friends would. We did for him what you would want a real friend to do for you when you’re down. We didn’t realize how we were losing sight of reality, losing our souls, little by little. Before long we started to lie to ourselves, and believe every word. Each step of the way it was as though we got into deeper, darker parts of a forest we’d gotten lost in, and we did whatever we thought it might take just to get out of there, to get home again. We never really made it. Until that terrible night in June of 1994 we had been living the American Dream. It never occurred to us that it could all be lost in a matter of seconds, in an incomprehensible bloodbath.
A few days later I saw O.J. for the first time. It was ten days after the arrest, the first time the judge allowed him to be seen by anybody other than his defense attorneys. I walked in to see him, and—imagine this—he was shackled. The chains around his waist rattled when he stood up from his chair. That alone just about broke my heart. He was wearing a blue jumpsuit. I remember how defeated he looked. That aura that he always had was gone. He didn’t have the charisma anymore. He was… human.
A glass partition separated him from visitors. We could reach up and pass things over it to him, but we couldn’t touch him, or he us. Couldn’t hug him or shake his hand. Instead we did just like they do in countless prison movies: We’d put our hands up to either side of the glass.
I was afraid to make eye contact with him because I was afraid of what I would see. Because I couldn’t look at him, I looked down at his hands, and I saw the cut on his middle finger, on the knuckle. The finger was swollen and had a very big gash on it. I looked at those hands and I thought, those are the hands that killed two people.
I finally tried to look at his eyes but he couldn’t give eye contact either. I kept searching for words. I couldn’t bring myself to say, “O.J., we know you didn’t do it.” Even then I couldn’t say that. I looked at his hands, his eyes… and you could just see it, that he was guilty. I remember thinking: What happened to you? How could you go so far and not catch yourself? How could you throw it all away? It was so uncomfortable that the twenty minutes’ visiting time seemed like an eternity.
I finally said, “O.J… is there anything at all that I can do?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Get me the fuck out of here.”
A bunch of us saw him that day. Marcus and Kathryn were there, and Cathy Randa of course. And Ron Shipp, a good friend of O.J.’s who wound up testifying for the prosecution. I think he was even the prosecution’s first witness. In our circle, that made him Judas. The first Judas, I should say.
I know what you’re thinking: What about me, now? Am I not also a Judas?
I can’t answer that. Maybe I am. It got to the point where there were no good options, so one by one, we started reaching for the less good options. We were literally damned if we did and damned if we didn’t. We could choose between being damned by the public, by the inner circle, our families, wives, or finally, ourselves. It came down to picking one course–—there was no way not to be damned at all.
Shipp went to the other side because a writer who was working on a book about the Brown family got him to say some things that were not good for O.J. It got back to us and we started to shun him. That was when, I think, the prosecution got him. It was like choosing between freezing water or sharks.
Going to my grave without putting this down on paper has become a less good option than telling it like it was, and risking betrayal. In a catastrophic situation like the one we faced, you start out all huddled together, protecting yourselves as a pack from the onslaught. The pressures are so monumental that people start to crack. The ship starts to take in water, starts to sink. Eventually, your community has been destroyed and it’s every man for himself.
I have a thousand stories of how and when people started “betraying” O.J. I was always very scornful of such people, but now I am one of them. And now I understand why they did it. It is something you are driven to, in an attempt to reconcile horrible things, to return to planet earth from an exile so terrible you can’t imagine it unless you’ve been through it. My now ex-wife Debbie became an alcoholic after our marriage broke apart over all this. Today she has recovered, but I feel that my marriage was one of the casualties of those two murders. Two people were killed that night, but many more people were slowly destroyed. We all died on June 12, 1994. The dream we had been living died. Our hopes died. It was like the sun was snuffed out. We all drifted further and further from society, and from one another. All we experienced was hostility, the perception that we were all a gang of knife-sharpeners. O.J. was the super-pariah, but we were all made into smaller pariahs. The isolation is almost surreal. We felt banished to a hostile planet where everything is lies on the one hand, and on the other hand a rain of arrows from the “enemy” camp.
By protecting O.J., we were protecting ourselves. Or rather, we were trying to protect ourselves—our names, reputations, our standing in the community, and our sense of loyalty. Like I said, in a situation like this, there are no good options, only bad ones. And even worse ones.
By mid-July, we had decided that we would indeed go back into production and have O.J. sign objects while in jail. We started with cards—the easiest. We went to the Sheriff’s Department and requested permission to sign 5,000 cards for a company called Signature Rookies. The cards featured O.J. in his Buffalo Bills uniform—an action shot. Skip’s directive that we would only do this in a perfectly tasteful, completely kosher wayrequired a bit of fancy footwork and research. To our knowledge, this hadn’t ever been done before—a prisoner signing autographs in jail. I reminded Skip and Kathy that O.J. had not yet been convicted of any crime. Skip consulted the famous civil liberties lawyer Alan Dershowitz about O.J.’s First Amendment rights. Somehow we secured permission to take the cards to the jail. They prohibited us strictly from letting him add “Los Angeles County Jail” to his signature, but we found a way around that. They gave us permission to have him date the signatures. This increased the cards’ value, because the date showed they were signed by O.J. while he was incarcerated. An O.J. Simpson card signed by O.J. before the murders had a market value of about $25. These went for $250 each. Make of that what you want.
In the beginning, getting the cards signed was a very slow and tortured process. I had to take ten cards at a time, and the pen, and give them to a lieutenant, who would give them to a sergeant, who would give them to the guard, who would give them to O.J. They’d take him out of his cell, hand him the pen, he would sign these ten cards, then give them back the cards and the pen. They would put him back in his cell, and send the signed cards all the way back through the chain of command to the lobby, where I would retrieve them. Then we would start the whole process all over again. We did this for about ten hours every day.
After a few weeks of this, they told us we could send in 100 cards at a time. A funny thing started to happen: I never got 100 cards back. I got 92, or 94–never 100. I counted and re-counted, and it happened each and every time.
I decided I had to talk to O.J. about this. That meant Kathy had to arrange for him to call me collect from the payphone near his cell, to the phone in the lobby.
“O.J.,” I said, “are you by chance keeping any of the cards?”
He got pretty irate. “What the fuck am I going to keep any of these cards for, Mike? Why would you ask me that?”
I explained what was going on. We didn’t know what to do, so as usual, we turned to Dad. Kathy got Skip.
“Skip,” I said, “the guards are lifting some of these cards from us.”
Skip mulled it over. We have a good thing going. It could be that the Sheriff was purposefully having this done so that we’d raise the issue. Then he could say, “I’m not having my guards accused of theft. Bullshit. Shut it down.” They could easily have shut the whole thing down, and in fact, every single day we expected them to.
Skip said, “Mike, let it go. This is just the cost of doing business.”
So we continued. We got back 92, or 94, out of every 100 cards, and we never said a word. O.J. signed a total of about 5,000 cards.
Then we turned to various photographs. Some were photos of O.J. playing at USC, some from his NFL days. We did probably 10,000 of those, maybe more. Then we got more and more ambitious. We had him signing footballs, jersey numbers, posters, lithographs, seragraphs, movie scripts—you name it, he signed it.
We had to be very creative about transporting the goods into the jail. For example, we couldn’t bring in football helmets due to their bulk, and also because the metal facemask would set off the metal detectors. Our solution was to order helmet decals and have him autograph those. Normally a helmet is signed right on the helmet, so these decal-signed helmets are extra-valuable on the memorabilia market, where it is known O. J. signed them in jail.
Footballs are also pretty bulky. We solved that too: Footballs are made of four panels, leather or vinyl. We ordered just the panels from a company called Daden Sports that produced footballs for the Downtown Athletic Club. We brought in briefcases filled with 150 panels at a time.
As for the jerseys, we bought just the numbers, the 3 and the 2, and he signed one or the other. Later we had them sewn onto the jerseys.
We had him sign stuff for the entire duration of his incarceration, clear up to the day of the verdict. We made well over $1 million.
O.J. remained behind bars from June, 1994, into October, 1995. Eighteen months, while the bizarre spectacle of his trial played out.
O.J. absolutely hated being in jail—hated everything about it. This was somebody who was used to having his food cooked to perfection and staying at the finest hotels in the world, so how would you expect him to feel about it? Once when I was sitting with him in jail I remembered having a meal with him at his house, at Rockingham, and recalled that he used to refuse to use paper napkins—only cloth, at every meal.
Seeing him in jail tore me apart. I felt very sorry for him. Does it disgust you to hear me express sympathy for him? My sympathy for him doesn’t mean I didn’t also have sympathy for the murder victims, and for the kids, and for the families. The two didn’t cancel each other out. The world isn’t that simple, try as we do to make it be. It’s true that O.J. and I were friends, while Nicole and I were not. But that’s the thing—O.J. was my friend, and long before that he was my idol. I loved him. And I felt sorry for him. Can you understand that?
If I could still feel anything today I would feel even sorrier for him now than I did then. In jail he was at least protected from all the hate. There was an order to our universe. At least we knew what to expect from one minute to the next. Unlike the public, the prison guards treated him very well. So did his fellow inmates. I actually think O.J. was better off in jail, all things considered. At least in jail he was serving out a small part of the penance, and so the punishment was present as opposed to something that was always at his heels. When he got out of prison, we never knew where or when the next person would hiss “murderer,” or walk out of restaurant, or cancel a contract, or spit at him as he passed by.
In jail, things were predictable and ordered. Because he was in jail, the people around him didn’t feel it necessary to lash out with their own personal punishments. They left him alone. They accorded him his dignity.
He had a few perks, but was by no means given special treatment. He was allowed to go up and use an exercise bike on the roof, and that was important to him, keeping fit. He lost a lot of weight in jail for the obvious reason that he hated the food.
O.J. was on the same high profile prison ward as Lyle and Erik Menendez, the brothers who were being tried for the shotgun murders of their parents in their Beverly Hills home. (They would be convicted in 1996.) They sometimes passed us or were in the adjoining visiting room. On one occasion they got wind of the fact that O.J. was signing stuff and making money, and they had somebody ask me on their behalf whether I could help them do the same. I said I was sorry but no, I couldn’t.
Once O.J. leaned in and whispered when the Menendez brothers had just walked past.
“Mike, you want to hear a really strange coincidence? A weird story.”
“Sure,” I said.
“Well, Mr. Menendez, their father, use to work at Hertz when they were kids, and I met them and signed a football for each of them. It was when they were kids, so it was some time in the 1970s. And now here we all are, in prison together, on the same floor. Talk about a small world.”
There was an additional level of macabre coincidence: O.J. told me that one of Nicole’s baby showers, I think it must have been for Sydney, had been held in the house where the Menendez parents were murdered, which at the time was being leased by a friend of O.J.’s.
Sometimes when we were sitting there in jail, with O.J. chained to his chair, under the fluorescent lights, the musty airless smell, the hopeless environment, depressed out of our minds, he would start to tell stories, out of the blue.
He was a phenomenal story teller, and over the years, a few stories had become such classics that it was as if he were a musician and we were asking him to play the same song, over and over. I would look over at Skip and Skip would have tears in his eyes and he would say, “I could hear that story a hundred times, O.J., I still tear up.” When O.J. would tell the story, we would be transported back, right through those prison walls and back onto the field, with the crowds roaring and the wind on our faces, like we were there. For those minutes, as long as it took O.J. to tell the stories, we were not in jail, we were somewhere else; it sometimes felt like we were inside the huddle.
There was one he liked to tell about a crucial Bills-Jets game at Shea in 1973, the year he became the first running back in history to rush for more than 2000 yards. The Bills had to win tis game or their season was over. The Bills had the ball, the clock was winding down, and the coach was shuttling wide receivers in and out of the huddle, bring the wuarterback plays. This was before they communicated through mics and headsets.
The Bills had this one receiver they called Crackback Jones. There’s a kind of illegal block they call a crackback block. It’s illegal because you can hurt somebody. Anyway, Crackback had a stuttering problem, especially when he was stressed. His only relief for it was to sing what he was trying to say.
The coach sends him into the huddle with a play. The clock is ticking. Crackback is definitely stressed. He’s stuttering, “Buh buh buh buh.” Finally, everybody yells at him, “Just fucking sing it!”
So Crackback starts singing the play, and everyone in the huddle cracks up. They’re still laughing and grinning as they go to the line of scrimmage. The Jets defense is looking at them like, “Are you guys crazy? The clock is winding down, you’ve got to score, and you’re laughing?”
To O.J., the point was that the laughter reminded them that it was a game. They were playing for the fun and the love of the game. And they ended up winning.
Another story was from very early in O.J.’s career, in one of his first USC games. SC Trojans were playing against Notre Dame, at Notre Dame stadium. In the last game of the Trojans vs Fighting Irish, before O.J. had joined the team, the Fighting Irish had left the Trojans out on the field for such a long time, about 15 minutes, in ice cold freezing weather, that were frozen solid by the time the game started. They were demoralized, and just wanted to lose, quickly, and go home to sunny Southern California.
Coach John Mckay said that would never happen again. So now it’s the following year, 1967, O.J.’s rookie year. As the visiting team, USC is expected to hit the field first. That’s how it’s always done.
An official comes to the Trojan locker room and tell Mckay to get his team ready.
“Is Notre Dame out yet?” Mckay says.
The official says, “Home team always comes out last.”
Mckay says, “We’re not coming out until Notre Dame is on the field.”
“Coach, you need to get your team on the field or you forfeit the game,” the official replies.
So Mckay shouts, “Boys, get your uniforms off, we’re going home!”
O.J., the freshman, was dumfounded. He stood there agape. Mckay shouted at him, “Simpson, get your jersey off, we’re going gome!”
The official leaves. O.J. is amazed. The team is actually getting undressed. A moment later, the official comes back in. He says, “Coach, Notre Dame is on the field.”
And Mckay smiles and hollers, “Boys, get your uniforms on. It’s time to go kick some Irish ass!”
They were so beside themselves with excitement by that time, so pumped up, they just went crazy. Mentally, they knew they had already won the game—that they had mentally defeated Notre Dame already, just as Notre Dame had done to them the year before. And sure enough, they won. They just destroyed them. Because they went out of the locker rooms already victorious.
O.J. loved telling that one, and we loved hearing it, even there in jail. Why? Maybe because it was a story about the good old days, the days of youth and glory and victory, before the insanity of 1994.
And maybe because it was about team spirit. Team spirit got harder and harder to maintain in 1994.
For instance, O.J. had mixed feelings about his attorneys—the Dream Team. Headed up by the all-star quartet, the Four Horsemen of the legal profession, Robert Shapiro, Johnnie Cochran, F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz. His “defensive linemen,” as the Washington Post called them. The finest legal team a wealthy celebrity could buy. The one he was most wary of was Shapiro. He just didn’t trust him. He kept him on the Dream Team after a point because he thought he would leak stuff to the press if he was let go, so he didn’t dare. O.J. did not want Shapiro to be the attorney of record because he knew that black people in Los Angeles harbored a lot of ill will toward Jews. They accused Jews of giving them home loans they couldn’t repay and then seizing their houses. He didn’t want that to be playing in the minds of the black jurors. He simply did not want Shapiro in front of a black jury.
The one lawyer he really wanted to lead the defense team was Johnnie Cochran. To the very end, he loved Johnnie and trusted him. When O.J. was first arrested, Johnnie was busy with Michael Jackson, and O.J. had to wait a bit. “I want Johnnie,” O.J. said, repeatedly. When Cochran finally came on board, O.J. was thrilled. He was careful about making sure Johnnie’s role was secured, and found ways to make sure the others didn’t get resentful or envious. This was a juggling act with some titanic egos, and O.J. understood how the ego and mind of an alpha male worked, being one himself. He made sure they all felt important and took his time navigating Johnnie to the top position, a process he was very apprehensive about.
The two lawyers who wound up truly hating each other by the end of it, ironically, started out as the closest friends: Shapiro and F. Lee Bailey. They had been friends for decades, but tension grew and grew during the trial, and exploded when something was leaked to the press from the defense team and they accused each other. We never did find out who had leaked the information, but the damage was done, the friendship destroyed. They had a big blowup one day, and after that it was total ice and silence. It got very ugly. Shapiro at one point said that he would never work with nor speak with F. Lee Bailey again, and he kept his word.
And then there was Bobby Kardashian. What can I say about Bobby Kardashian that has not been said? He set the original gold standard for O.J. betrayal with his covert, Faustian collaboration with the obese and malodorous Larry Schiller, author of American Tragedy: The Inside Story Of The Simpson Defense.
Kardashian is perhaps the only person who betrayed O.J. whose conduct was so blatant and unprofessional that he even earned the scorn of the O.J.-haters, even the press, never mind us. You can see everything in the look on his face when the verdict was read. He wasn’t only shocked, he was miserable. He was counting on a guilty verdict.
And then there were all the rest of us—O.J.’s friends, colleagues, business associates, confidantes, hangers-on, fellow celebrities. It was very complicated, its own cosmology almost, who visited O.J. and how and why and when. Because of the media hordes constantly outside the jail, nobody could visit O.J. without being tarred and feathered as an O.J. apologist, ally, or even accomplice. Visiting him became a political act, virtually. Some of his old football buddies had their wives threaten divorce if they visited O.J. Being associated with him dealt immediate and serious blows to people’s reputations, businesses, even marriages. Again I feel compelled to ask: What would you have done?
As the trial progressed and the evidence looked more and more damning against O.J., people started to vanish. One after another they started slowly falling away. Almost everybody from Hollywood disappeared, almost overnight. Marcus Allen only went to visit O.J. one single time, that first day when we all went. Of course, as I said, I believe Marcus’ role in all this was deep and complex. No wonder he stayed away.
Even Al Cowling’s visits were sporadic. A.C. was a long and close friend to O.J., a former Buffalo Bills teammate. He was behind the wheel of the infamous white Bronco on June 17. But neither the prosecution nor the defense wanted A.C. to be a witness in the trial, so it served everybody if he just kept away. The prosecution didn’t want A.C.’s testimony because he’d say that on June 17 he was driving O.J. to Nicole’s grave so O.J. could commit suicide there. They were afraid that this never-told suicide story might make O.J. seem sympathetic to the jury, grief-stricken over Nicole, wanting to shoot himself on her grave. They were determined from day one to depict him as a true monster with no feelings whatsoever.
The reason the Dream Team didn’t want A.C. to testify was obvious and simple: He knew O.J. had committed the murders. How on earth would you chauffer your best friend to his own suicide attempt if not for the fact that yes, he was guilty of the murders?
Let’s review the facts: A few days after the murders, when O.J. was supposed to turn himself in to the authorities, he had a few people at the house who stayed with him at all times. His sister Shirley and her husband Benny literally did not let him out of their sight the entire time. They took turns leaving the room. Everybody was afraid he would kill himself.
O.J. asked A.C. if they could go for a drive, and they did, in A.C.’s white Ford Bronco. They just wanted to get out of the house, supposedly. The public believes that A.C. was shocked to discover that O.J. had a gun and was suicidal, and that he called the police to get their help in talking O.J. off the ledge. But in fact, AC drove O.J. to Nicole’s grave, explicitly so that he could shoot himself, there, and be reunited with her.
Who told me this?
During all those endless hours and days when we sat in jail, signing things. He was going to shoot himself in the head, rather than turn himself in. He said he wanted to be with Nicole.
Another thing you have to remember is how important O.J.’s image was to him. He wanted to stop all the sordid details from getting dredged up in a lengthy trial for the world–and above all, for his kids–to see. If he killed himself, he would be a tragic figure, not a hero exactly, but at least the whole matter would have died down.
They’d driven to the cemetery and O.J. had the gun that had been given to him years earlier by an NFL executive named Mike Orenstein. A.C. knew he was guilty. It was a very easy and obvious thing in that circle, and everybody knew it. Maybe we didn’t say it out loud–we had a kind of internalized taboo mechanism against that–but it was implicit. Would you take your best friend to kill himself if he were innocent?
In his ’96/97 civil trial, O.J. was asked what he was thinking during that ride.
“I felt at peace that I was going to stop feeling the way I was feeling,” he said.
“… And what was the cause of that pain?”
What happened was, they got to the cemetery and there were cops everywhere. They couldn’t get in through the front gates. A.C. took O.J. to the back and said goodbye. O.J. went off, leaving A.C. in a fairly excruciating position of having to stand there and wait to hear the gunshot.
Time passed, no gunshot. Finally A.C. went up to him, in agony.
“O.J., Jesus Christ. Are you going to do this or not?”
O.J. retold this story with a hint of black humor.
“Give me a fucking break, man,” he recalled saying. “I’m trying to kill myself over here!”
A.C. just wanted to get it over with. Finally O.J. came back out of the orchard. He had pulled the trigger, he said, and the gun didn’t go off.
“I thought this meant I was not supposed to do it,” he told me. “I remember what my mother always told me, that suicide is a sin, and if you kill yourself you don’t go to heaven. I’d never see Nicole again.”
So he changed his mind, and told A.C. to take him back to Rockingham, mainly because he thought his mother was there. O.J. adored Eunice, who was a wonderful woman, and she adored him. But Eunice had already left Rockingham and returned to San Francisco, as it turned out.
When A.C. drove O.J. from the cemetery back to Rockingham, he was in contact with the police, and told them he was bringing O.J. home. The famous slow Bronco “chase” on the 405 wasn’t really a chase at all. They were just tailing them, following them, almost like an escort. Shortly after he got home, he was taken into police custody.
That’s the story neither the prosecutors nor O.J.’s team wanted the jury to hear, so A.C. was kept out of the trial.
I have often wondered if O.J. regretted not killing himself that day. Many of us would become suicidal, over time, including myself, from the unrelenting pressures of the trial and the public loathing. If O.J. had killed himself that day, the entire story would have died with him, in the orchard. But that was not his destiny, or ours.
O.J. suffered losses in jail that nobody knows about. One that really crushed him was what happened to Bobby Chandler. Bobby had played with O.J. at USC and they were very close friends. Bobby was always the pretty boy, the GQ ideal– blond, blue-eyed. He was also a very kind person, and he loved O.J.
Bobby had gotten very severe stomach cramps while watching the Bronco chase on TV, and when we heard that we assumed it was from the stress of seeing O.J. in this situation. But the cramps didn’t stop in the coming days and Bobby went to a doctor. It was stomach cancer. Even after his diagnosis, Bobby kept up his regular visits. They had been golfing buddies, and if you know golfers, for them being on the greens is like being in paradise, or back in your mother’s womb. Bobby would tell O.J. to picture the two of then teeing off at the Riviera.
“One year from now O.J., we’ll be up there having a beer, we’ll watch the sunset over the ocean, and life will be good again.”
But Bobby died in January 1995, just before the trial started. O.J. was crushed by that.
I often wondered what Bobby would have done when the DNA evidence started to come in. You have to understand that people who tried to believe in O.J.’s innocence were not bad people, or stupid people. They were people who knew O.J. before. They were people who knew what he meant when he said, “I couldn’t have done this.”
They did not know what had happened to O.J. the night of June 12, but they knew that whatever it was, it was alien, foreign, something horrific that sprang from hell and seized him, something he couldn’t for once outrun. We all had different beliefs about what the trigger was, what the alien element was. For me, it was the Prozac. Because as soon as he went on it we lost him. He wasn’t O.J. anymore. Everything about him was different—everything. His voice, diction, memory, personality–everything. We knew he was spiraling, we knew he was in trouble, especially in the days right before the murders. I sometimes feel as if the circle of friends understood this, understood that O.J. had been a victim of something outside his control, but that he could never admit it, partially because O.J. doesn’t lose control. He’s O.J., remember? Of all the athletes I have ever worked with or met or known, he would be the last one I would ever imagine committing murder, for many reasons. I already told you his image meant everything to him. He was on top of the world, adored by everybody, and he liked it that way.
I would like somebody, ideally somebody who knows, personally, about the line between killing somebody and not killing somebody, to explain this to me. Why that night was there a bloodbath? Why did he not have any of his normal inhibitions?
As the trial ground on, the friends and well-wishers continued to fall away. The betrayals continued to sting.
We were all pretty good people before June 12. Now we are all damaged goods. Passably decent people who were left with a series of bad choices, and eventually many of us chose all of them. I certainly did. The only person who I can look back and say was stellar, somehow, was Skip Taft. He is the most decent, good, trustworthy person I have ever known in my life. He is like the grandfather we all wish we had. To this day, Skip has not turned his back on O.J., nor has he ever spoken on the record about the trial.
But I remember once when the trial was over, I asked him, “Skip, do you think O.J. would do for us what we just did for him? If the situation were reversed, would he have been there for us?”
“No, Mike,” Skip said. “He loves us but he doesn’t have the ability to love like you and I do. He won’t sacrifice for us.”
Smoke and Mirrors
I was by no means a participant in the Dream Team, and I had absolutely no formal legal input, despite the impression created by the title of this book. Did I really help O.J. Simpson “get away with murder?”
Yes and no.
Specifically, what I did was that I became part of the larger organism of support, feedback, financing, and manipulation of public perception that ultimately, in the hands of the best lawyers in the country, resulted in O.J.’s acquittal. But it was the legal team that actually held the ball, naturally. I was a sounding board for O.J. every single day he was in jail, and I started offering ideas and suggestions, some of which he passed along to them.
And over time, by virtue of being around every day, I became inveigled in the defense strategies. I am a very cunning person, and this came in handy throughout the trial. My mind works that way, because all my life I feel I have had to protect myself, and at my core I have deep seated distrust and cynicism. They didn’t call it the “dream team” for nothing. We were masters of illusion and deception. There was nothing we couldn’t spin our way, no witness whose credibility we couldn’t shred.
It’s been said, correctly I think, that this was a matter of necessity. Because, put simply, we didn’t have a case. O.J.’s conviction was the prosecutors’ to lose. They had the motive, the evidence, witnesses, science on their side. We had bupkis. All we could do was poke enough holes in their arguments, sow enough doubt in the jurors’ minds—especially in the minds of the nine black jurors—to weaken their case against us.
Take the blood, for example. Remember the cut I saw on O.J.’s hand? The prosecutors said he cut himself while committing the murders, then left a trail of blood from Nicole’s house to the Bronco to his house. It got on the gate at Nicole’s, on the Bronco, on the infamous glove, on one of his socks that was found in his bedroom. DNA testing—still in its infancy back them–showed both O.J. and Nicole’s blood on that sock, as well as the “blue-black” fibers from the clothes O.J. wore that night. These were also found on Ron’s shirt, and on the glove. This alone should have convicted O.J.
Here is how we manipulated it—shifting the focus of attention, seeding doubt, telling the audience what they were seeing, like any good magician would do.
First of all, we leaked the information about the sock to the press, wanting it to look like the prosecution had leaked it, and we spun it the way we wanted it to fly. The prosecution had video footage from the bedroom, and it does not show a sock on the floor. We stressed that–and omitted the fact that the video was showing a different part of the floor from where the sock actually was. Nonetheless, in the confusion, this seeded the idea that the sock could have been planted by the cops.
Then we kept going: A sock has four sides, like a towel that you fold in half. We made a very big deal out of the fact that three sides of the sock had been soaked through with blood, as opposed to two, which suggested that the cops had poured blood on the socks. We went back to the vial of blood that was collected on O.J. and absolutely assailed the guy who had collected it at Parker Center. We went on and on about how sloppy the evidence processing was, and planted the suggestion that the blood samples were mishandled and contaminated with O.J.’s DNA there. Also, the guy testified that he had taken 8.5 cc’s of O.J.’s blood — but there were only six cc’s. We just took that and ran with it. The defense’s repetition of the question, Where is the missing blood?, created the illusion that there was missing blood. In truth, we knew that somebody drawing blood does not measure it all that exactly. What they thought was 8.5 cc’s could easily be six. What they mean to say is about 8.5 cc’s. Furthermore, the blood could easily have saturated three surfaces of the sock when O.J. took them off.
Now, it should be obvious that if O.J. had nothing to do with the murders, there should never have been any blood at O.J.’s house. And yet it was everywhere—his blood and theirs. How would the cops have known that O.J.’s blood was even at the scene? How could they have planted the sock when he was still in Chicago? It’s absurd.
But then, what made the whole matter fall into such hopeless fog is that there were a few places in the DNA evidence where it did seem possible that blood evidence had been planted. There was no blood on Nicole’s gate, for example, the night of the murders when the first pictures were taken. Three days later there was blood on the gate. It had more of O.J.’s DNA than any other blood they collected, as well as a preservative called EDTA, used in labs. It wasn’t hard for us to suggest that this blood had been brought from the lab and planted there.
When the DNA evidence started coming in, I remember feeling punched in the stomach. It was just so damning. Blood drops near the victims matching O.J.’s. Twelve hairs on the cap found at Nicole’s matching O.J’s. A hair from Nicole, with blood on it, on the Rockingham glove.
And so forth. It just kept coming in, more and more.
It all pointed to O.J.’s guilt.
I decided to go in and sit with O.J, to try to lend him support the day the DNA started to come in. He had a glassy expression on his face, and he spoke to me, suddenly, in what seemed like utter candor, for once.
“You know, Mike,” he said, “it’s weird. I watch this DNA evidence…I believe in this stuff, the science. I believe in this science. I look at all this… and I see it and I think I know I had to have done this.”
He paused, and looked at me with this vacant look. And then he said, “But Mike, if I did it…wouldn’t I remember that I did it?”
He wasn’t saying that for the benefit of the TV cameras or the public. He was saying it to me, in a tone of true confused despair.
I thought to myself: He did it, but he truly doesn’t know he did it.
I thought back to the last time I spoke to O.J. before the murders. His slowed-down, out-of-it, drugged-out voice. I remembered thinking he was “on something.”
Since then, I’d found out what it was: Prozac.
If you’ve ever taken a sleeping pill, like Ambien, you know the feeling: a total blackout, when you truly have no idea where you were or what you did. It’s like a gap in your consciousness, like a piece of a film reel that’s been cut away.
He looked like a kid who had just had a nightmare.
I thought about his description of the Prozac, “some damn drug they put me on that was supposed to make me feel better but only made me worse.” And about what Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, the author of Prozac Backlash, had told me. He’d said that if O.J. committed these murders while on Prozac, he would only remember it like a dream, like something outside of himself, something he saw from above, like an out of body experience.
I looked at him and said, “I don’t know, O.J.”
In his 2007 confessional book If I Did It, O.J., through his ghost writer Pablo Fenvjes, who could not possibly have made this up,said that he found himself that night standing outside Nicole’s house, but “I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten there, when I’d arrived, or even why I was there.” Then he realized he was covered in blood, and registered the dead bodies of Nicole and Ron, lying “in giant pools of blood.”
“Where the fuck was I when this shit went down?” he asks himself.
He says it was “like part of my life was missing–like there was some weird gap in my existence.”
I looked into O.J.’s behavior right after the killings, and it is consistent with Prozac withdrawal, which often causes acute suicidality. Another symptom of Prozac withdrawal is profuse sweating. Al Cowlings told a writer that while they were in the Bronco, O.J. was soaked in sweat.
His face had turned “golden,” Cowlings recalled. Sweat poured from him. Simpson was so incoherent that [speaking to the cops] he let Cowlings do the talking for him.
Now, I know how some people’s eyes roll whenever the “Prozac defense” is raised. But the truth is an incredible number of bizarre and brutal acts of violence in America in recent years seem to connected to the use of or withdrawal from antidepressants. Columbine killer Eric Harris had just been switched from Zoloft to Luvox when he went on his rampage. Steve Kazmierczak was withdrawing from Prozac when he went on his deadly shooting spree at North Illinois University in 2008. Leslie Demeniuk, who shot her four-year-old twin sons in Florida in 2001, was on Zoloft and Paxil. California teenager Jarred Vikto stabbed his grandmother 61 times ten days after being put on Paxil in 1995. Andrea Yates, who drowned all five of her small children in a bathtub in Houston in 2001, had been taking Wellbutrin and Haldol. Julie Rifkin, on Paxil, shot her two sons to death and then herself in Colorado Springs in 2005. The list goes on and on and on.
In 1999, a physician wrote that “virtually all of the gun-related massacres that have made headlines over the past decade have had one thing in common: They were perpetrated by people taking Prozac, Zoloft, Luvox, Paxil or a related antidepressant drug.” The FDA now requires all antidepressants to come with a “black box” label warning about the increased danger of suicide in patients using the drugs. The FDA doesn’t make a move like that without good reason.
I’m not saying that Prozac is an “excuse” for the murders. But I do think it was another piece of the perfect storm. Like I said—everything that could go wrong that night did go wrong.
And that brings me back to the Marcus Allen factor. To this day I believe Marcus was with Nicole on the day or the evening before the murders. Even if he wasn’t, I believe O.J. thought he was. I know that Marcus was seeing Nicole. And I know O.J. knew it.
I know because they both told me so.
Not long after the murders, Marcus and I went to the Hyatt hotel in Buffalo, NY, where Marcus would be signing autographs. I was in my hotel room when I got a call from a friend.
“Mike, you better turn your radio on,” he said. Faye Resnick’s quicky tell-all book Nicole Brown Simpson had come out that week. “Apparently she says in there that Nicole told her that Marcus’… was like a big piece of driftwood. That size.”
“And this radio station is holding a contest. Whoever brings in the biggest piece of driftwood wins, then they’re going to burn it.”
I was sickened and outraged. I knew the station—it was the one licensed to broadcast the Buffalo Bills’ home games. I called one of the top executives in the Bills organization and told him what “their” station was doing. I said it was disrespectful to Nicole, to Marcus, and to O.J., the greatest player in the Bills’ history.
My friend had also said that the tabloids picked up the story. I went down to the hotel gift shop and sure enough, there on the newsrack were the tabloids with Marcus’ photo and articles about Resnick’s book. I grabbed every copy on the rack.
“You got any more behind the counter?” I asked the clerk.
“No sir,” he said. My anger was obviously making him nervous.
I bought every copy and brought them back up to my room. I didn’t want people coming into the hotel for Marcus’ autograph session to see them.
Marcus came to my room and we held the autograph session. He looked over and saw this big stack of tabloids.
“Mike, what is that?”
He picked one up and skimmed the story.
“You know it wasn’t like that, right, Mike?”
“Wasn’t like what?”
“It wasn’t like what’s in here.”
“You didn’t have an affair with Nicole?”
“So you never had sex with Nicole?”
“No, we never made love.”
I stared at him. I didn’t like the evasiveness of his answer.
“So,” I said carefully, “you never had sex with Nicole?”
“Well…” He hesitated. “We had oral sex, but we never made love.”
“Oh, well that’s okay,” I said sarcastically. I was shocked. This was the love of his best friend’s life we were talking about. They didn’t make love. They just had oral sex!
“Mike, I went over, just trying to stay in touch with her, so she knew we were
still her friends even though she was divorced from O.J. One thing led to another…I didn’t mean for it to happen.”
I was just really taken aback. Until that day, I’d had no idea it was true. All I knew was that prior to Resnick’s book, Marcus denied having sex with Nicole. Not long after the murders, prosecutor Christopher Darden had asked him, “Did you ever have a sexual relationship with Nicole?”
Marcus said, “No.”
That was a lie, and he was under oath. He could have been prosecuted. There was no turning back after that. I believe that when Marcus denied the relationship to Darden, he thought it would die right there. And without Resnick’s book, it might have.
We went down to lunch. Now that I knew, Marcus seemed eager to talk about it, to explain it to me.
“It’s just amazing how quickly life can turn on you,” he sighed. “Everything was just great for all of us not long ago. I was at the top of my career, things were going great for O.J. Now look at us. Nicole’s been murdered. O.J.’s in jail. A.C. may be thrown in jail. I’m on the cover of a tabloid. Look at all of us.”
At this time, I had no idea that O.J. knew. As soon as I got back to L.A., I went to the jail to see him.
“O.J., I need to tell you something.” And I told him what Marcus told me.
I expected him to be flabbergasted, but instead he just said, “So he admitted it?”
“He said he said they had oral sex and stuff like that,” I stammered, “but didn’t make love.”
“What do you mean stuff like that?” he growled.
I said, “I don’t know, O.J. I was kind of shocked. I didn’t press him for details.”
“You need to talk to Johnnie,” he said. “We need Marcus to come forward and admit this in court.”
“Because the prosecution will try to make it look like I was so jealous I killed Nicole over Marcus. He needs to testify that I have been cool about it.”
O.J. said Nicole had tearfully confessed to him that she’d been seeing his best friend. He said she also asked him to ask Marcus to back off her. Marcus was treating her like any girl from the road, and she was very upset about it.
According to O.J., he called Marcus and said, “Marcus, Nicole told me everything. You got to stop calling her. Just be cool.”
“O.J., what are you talking about?”
“Nicole told me everything.”
“Nothing happened,” Marcus insisted.
A few days later, O.J. said, “Marcus comes over and he’s crying. ‘I’m so sorry, man, one thing led to another…I’m sorry…’ I said, ‘Marcus, listen, Nicole and I are separated. What I’m disappointed in is that you never told me any of the things Nicole was saying to you about how she wanted to get back together with me.'”
Now O.J. wanted me to persuade Marcus to come clean.
“Mike, you got to go to Kansas City and talk to your boy. This isn’t about Marcus getting into the fucking hall of fame. I didn’t tell Marcus to fucking fuck my ex-wife. This is about me possibly never getting out of jail or never seeing my kids again.”
I was in a horrible position. Marcus was the guy I always thought would put my kids through college if I suddenly died in a car wreck. He was that kind of person in my life. O.J. wasn’t. O.J. was my idol, but he wasn’t that kind of friend. Now he was pressuring me very hard to do something I didn’t want to do. They were both my clients, but I was closer to Marcus. I loved Marcus. His was the one friendship I lost in all this that I treasured and missed the most.
But I flew to Kansas City to talk to Marcus. We met at the Crown Plaza Hotel.
He said, “I’m not going to testify. You’re going to have to tell O.J. that if I testify I’m going to have to be honest and tell the whole thing. If they ask me if I ever saw O.J. stalk Nicole, I would have to say yes. I would have to tell them that I was with him when he pulled the car over and peered into a restaurant window when we saw her car.”
He looked at me and said, “Mike, just because he didn’t get pissed off at me about this doesn’t mean he didn’t kill her.”
That was true. Marcus was in a hell of a position, as was I. It was like a Gordian knot.
I remember this with 100 per cent clarity saying to Marcus, “If this is the truth, and this is why you don’t want to testify, I accept it. Then don’t testify.”
I went back and told O.J. what Marcus had said.
“He would have to be honest, O.J.”
“That’s what I want, for him to be fucking honest.”
Haltingly, I told him what Marcus said about the stalking.
“When the fuck did Marcus Allen see me stalk fucking Nicole?” O.J. exploded.
“O.J., don’t get pissed at me. I went to Kansas City to talk to Marcus because you asked me to, and this is what he said.”
“Then fucking let him tell about the stalking. I need him to testify.”
I suggested that O.J. talk to Marcus directly. I orchestrated the call to be routed through Kathy Randa in jail.
After they spoke, both of them called me. O.J. was livid.
“I said, ‘Marcus, you got to come clean.’ He starts playing stupid. ‘What do you mean come clean, O.J.?’ I said, ‘About your affair with Nicole, Marcus.’ He said, ‘I can’t do it, because it never happened.’ I said, ‘Who the fuck is there with you? Is Kathyrn there? Your lawyer? Marcus, we both know it happened.’”
When I spoke to Marcus, he said, “O.J. wants me to lie for him and say I had an affair.”
“Marcus you told me you had the affair.”
He said nothing.
That was when I lost respect for him. And that was the last time that O.J. and Marcus ever spoke.
I never understood why it blew up like that. My relationship with both of them was very strained after that. I wasn’t happy with Marcus, because I felt the bigger issue was to just be honest about the affair. But I also understand Marcus’ point that it doesn’t mean O.J. didn’t kill Nicole. And I also understand why O.J. was so furious after that phone call. I also absolutely believe Marcus that the stalking incident happened.
So their friendship was destroyed. My friendship with Marcus eroded fast. I still repped him for a few years after that, but it bothered me. I understand that he was locked in by what he told Christopher Darden. He believed that O.J. killed Nicole. He told me once: “O.J. couldn’t look at me in jail. Couldn’t look me in the eyes.”
They finally hauled Marcus in and deposed him, in the civil trial, when all of us finally got deposed. He still denied the affair, under oath. He must have something to hide that is even more serious than the fact of this affair:
Q. Did you ever have a romantic relationship with Nicole?
A. No, I did not.
Q. Did Nicole and you, for example, ever kiss one another romantically?
A. No, I did not.
Q. So, no kind of sexual or romantic involvement did you ever have with her?
A. None whatsoever.
Q. Did she ever express to you romantic feelings that she had for you?
A. No, she did not.
Q. And did you ever express such feelings to her?
A. No, I did not.
Q. Your relationship with Nicole was purely one of friendship and nothing more?
A. Yes, it was.
Q. Did you make that clear to Mr. Simpson?
A. Yes. I think he understood that.
Marcus described how he and O.J. had been closed friends since 1978. Then:
Q: Now, you have indicated to me that your relationship with Mr. Simpson is different now than it was for all these years, true?
A: Yes, it is.
Q: And it changed when?
A: Well, the — I think one phone call I think he wanted me to write a letter in opposition to an article that I think Time magazine had written, and I didn’t do that. And I think secondly he also wanted me to testify to a conversation that we allegedly had — well, excuse me, a conversation that we had in reference to my admitting to him or something of that — you know, the fact about a relationship with his ex-wife, and the conversation, it wasn’t true. The relationship didn’t happen. And, so, I think he got upset with me, and obviously I felt — really — I felt really sort of — I was in a tough position, and I think thereby the conversation never took place again. I am sure he was disappointed, and I was sort of disappointed too, that I couldn’t help him as a friend, but I couldn’t go there and say these things because they didn’t take place.
The trial dragged on, and the Dream Team spun and spun, dodged and weaved. With no good case of our own we did evertyhing we could to ridicule and punch holes in the prosecution’s. We had to plant as much doubt and mistrust as we could in the jurors’ minds.
Take Mark Fuhrman. Our strategy was, as you know, to go after him at every chance. He was the pinnacle figure, the cop who had been in charge of collecting the evidence. Fortunately for us, we unearthed evidence of racist writings and utterances he’d made (“First thing — anything out of a nigger’s mouth for the first five or six sentences if a fucking lie.”), and we got him to perjure himself. We also made a very big deal out of the fact that Fuhrman jumped the fence at Rockingham, even though we understood perfectly well why he did it. He had two murder victims, and blood leading to O.J’s house, and O.J. was absent, so of course he jumped the fence. What if O.J. himself was in peril? In fact, I think they even tried calling the house but there was no answer.
But the highest point of drama in the entire trial, of course, was the day O.J. tried on the bloody glove that had been found at Rockingham, to see if it fit his hand. Here was where I had my best, and worst, idea of the entire trial. Let me wind back a little bit first, and tell you about these gloves.
O.J. was a professional athlete, and he had very large hands. This was one of the things I remember when I first met him and shook his hand, was how small my hand felt in his, like he was shaking hands with a second grader. When I saw pictures of the gloves during the trial, I am fairly sure I recognized them as a pair of gloves I had actually worn myself, when I was with O.J in Buffalo that preceding football season. We had gone there for a Buffalo Bills game, where O.J. was going to be broadcasting for NBC. It was a cold day, and O.J. was wearing gloves and an overcoat. I remember I was standing under a goalpost, and O.J. handed me his coat and gloves, because he had to put his Buffalo Bills jersey on over his shirt, so he could run out on the field for a re-enactment of the legendary 1973 Shea stadium game when O.J. broke the 2000 yard barrier. As he ran onto the field, I put the gloves on, admiring their quality and how warm they were. I looked at them on my hands—they were way too big—and thought, “Wow, there are really nice.”
Cut to O.J. and me sitting in the jail, a few days before he was going to be asked to try on the gloves in front of the jury. O.J. brought it up, and was perturbed.
“I don’t want to put them on Mike,” he said. That was understandable. They had Nicole’s blood all over them, and had been worn by her killer when she was murdered. I was pretty tough on him that day.
“O.J.,” I said, “the jury is going to be watching you every move, your every flinch, everything about your demeanor when you try on those gloves. They’re going to want to see how you react. If I were a juror, I would be thinking, ‘How would I be feeling if I was innocent of the murders, and had to try on the gloves that killed my beloved ex-wife?'”
There had been wax models made, and all kinds of measurings, and various experts called in about what this glove testimony would mean. Both sides were risking something, and both sides both wanted him to put it on, and didn’t want him to.
O.J. sat quietly, taking this all in. “I don’t want to put it on,” was all he said. Then something just fell into my mind.
I said, “O.J., why don’t you just not take your arthritis medicine the day before?”
“What? Why?” he said.
“What happens when you don’t take your arthritis medicine?”
“My hands hurt like hell.”
“What else happens?”
“They swell up…”
I could see the penny dropping when I looked at his face. There had been a few times when we were traveling together when he forgot his arthritis medicine and his hands, especially his knuckles, would just get huge from swelling.
I knew that if he did what I said the glove would not fit. We did not discuss it any further. I am not even sure he ever told his attorneys about this—I don’t think they knew.
When he tried on the glove in the courtroom, with the whole world watching, he said, “It doesn’t fit,” and made that facial expression of gee-wiz, one of the iconic moments of the trial, the moment everybody remembers. And Cochran, of course, being a genius, came up with “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
And they did.
So yes, in that sense I guess I did help O.J. “get away with murder.”
Of course, the prosecution helped. The prosecution was ridiculously incompetent. The jury did not state that O.J. was either “innocent” or that they felt he was “not guilty” of the murders. What the verdict reflected was that the prosecution did not prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Dream Team created and maniuplated that doubt, especially in the minds of the black jurors. We manipulated the suggestion that the cops had tampered with the evidence. We played up the fact that Furhman had in fact been recorded on tape expressing disdain—whether for theatrical purposes or not—toward “niggers.” As soon as we found the Fuhrman tapes, we knew it was over. Well, we all but knew. In his closing arguments, Johnnie compared Fuhrman to Hitler and made it sound like the jurors weren’t there to decide a murder trial but to help clean up the racist and corrupt Los Angeles Police Department. And the jurors sat there rivetted. It was like O.J. wasn’t even on trial. The LAPD was.
We—and again, when I say “we” I don’t mean to imply that I was part of the Dream Team, but part of the larger team that helped out—did something I was very familiar with: We created illusions. The glove scene is the perfect example. There was no illusion we could not create for our audience. And maybe like any mesmerized audience, part of them wanted to be fooled. The truth is always harder work, and more painful. We all create illusions in order to survive. We just don’t all do it on this scale.
Sitting there with O.J. every day in jail as we signed memorabilia, I got to hear a perspective that was, by sheer accident, the rarest one: I got to hear O.J.’s feedback.
He would come in to the room each day after trial, and I would have either sat through the court proceedings or followed it in the media, and then we’d talk about it as we sat there signing. He would sometimes watch portions of the trial himself, on the TV in one of the prison hallways, but he was not permitted to select the channel. Only the guards could do that.
He constantly narrated his retorts, answers and defenses to the various testimonies. He would rant and rave about how biased the media reports against him were—and he was right, they were. He always said that when anything went his way they downplayed it, but if it was a bad day for him it was banner headline news. By the time the verdict was read, the media had created such a bonfire of sentiment against O.J. that it quite literally was like a rampaging beast that was set loose upon the land. Once it was set loose, nobody could control it. It had a life of its own. O.J. and his crime and the evidence of his guilt were at the center of it, but it was so much more than that. It had picked up the dormant emotions of this nation’s entire racial history. The verdict became a proxy for unresolved racism, a place where it could attach itself and where it could be expressed. The “racism” did not reside in any one person stating the obvious, “O.J. did it.” Rather, the racism was expressed in the depth and intensity of how personally people took that fact, how personally they took the murders, and how personally they took the matter of showing O.J. how much they hated him.
The thing O.J. thanked me for when it was over was continuing to work as his marketing agent, continuing to sign objects throughout, that we sold to help finance the costly defense. I could have done what many business associated of O.J.’s did—I could have quit, abandoned him, as soon as the evidence convinced me of his guilt.
Why didn’t I?
We were living in a parallel universe. Inside our bubble, it was as if we could torture the evidence until reality itself was altered. If we closed the windows tight enough, if we filled our minds with myopic interpretations of blood drops and possible scenarios of malfeasance, we could keep the truth monster outside the house. For a little while longer, O.J. could still be the hero he was to me when I was in the 8th grade, pretending to be him. If we could create doubt in the minds of the jurors, we could create doubt in our own minds, and in that space where doubt was created, we could breathe, we could survive.
It was only years later, after the trial was long over, that I started to come apart at the seams. I told you I never like Nicole, and she never liked me. But she paid me a visit more than once in my dreams, when her ghost appeared, standing right over me, just looking at me. I started to try to tell her I was sorry but could not form any words or sounds. I woke up in a cold sweat.
I know I created that apparition out of my own guilt-wracked mind. It was as if I was merging into O.J after all, like I dreamed of doing when I was a kid. Except I am much weaker than he is. O.J. was always able to block things out. That’s what made him the athlete he was. The Greek definition of tragedy is not when terrible things happen, but an internal measure of what is felt about those things that happen. O.J. knew how to outrun the pain in life. He’s running still.
Verdict and Homecoming
The trial had wrapped, and it was time for the jury to deliberate. We assumed the jurors would deliberate for at least two to three weeks, and were planning our lives accordingly. The day they began deliberating, October 2nd ,1995, I was sitting in O.J.’s old office down the hall from Skip’s office, making arrangements to meet a contact of mine near the jail and pick up some photographs to be signed by O.J. that day. All of a sudden Skip’s assistant Judy came running down the hall crying out, “They have a verdict!”
I came out of my office and Skip came out if his, and we were both motionless, staring at Judy. This made no sense. O.J’s jury had only been deliberating for 3 ½ hours.
“Who has a verdict?” I asked.
“O.J.’s jury has reached a verdict,” Judy said.
I looked over at Skip, who was ashen. The blood literally drained from his face. “Mike, this isn’t good,” he said. “This isn’t good.”
Later, I learned that Fred Goldman, Ron’s father, was jubilant when he heard about the quick verdict. He told a reporter, “They’re going to find him guilty, they’ve found him guilty… This is great. I’ve had the feeling all weekend long. They found him guilty.”
Skip walked over to the TV in his office and turned it on. There it was, all over the news: The jury had reached a verdict and they were going to deliver it the next morning. Skip and I could literally not believe our ears.
Trying to reassure Skip, I said, “Skip, think about it. They’re not going to put a man in jail for the rest of his life after three hours of deliberation. Remember that this is a jury that will have been asked, ‘Do you believe that evidence was planted in this case?’ Skip, if they say yes then they have to let O.J. go. They have to.”
Skip was sitting at his desk, and I was sitting across from his desk. Skip stood up and said, “I need to get to the jail. O.J. is going to be flipped out.”
We turned off the TV and agreed to drive separately to the jail and meet there. On my way there, I stopped at the Denny’s near the jail to meet the guy who had the photographs. I was thinking maybe O.J. wanted something to do to take his mind off the verdict in the morning. But when I got to the jail I just left them in the car. I couldn’t handle it at all. My mind was reeling and everything seemed surreal.
There is no way to describe the size of the media hordes outside that court house that day. It seemed to me that every person in the world who owned a camera or video camera was outside the L.A. County courthouse. (You know who wasn’t there? Israeli media. In Israel, there was no coverage of ther verdict at all, but not for lack of interest. Television and radio stations were off the air because the country was observing the solemn holy day of Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement, no less.)
I remember walking down the grey concrete walkway to the jail and hearing reporters call out, “Mike! Mike! I need to talk to you!” Many of them were people I’d gotten to know somewhat. We’d seen each other every day for the past year and a half. But I didn’t answer anybody this time. At that moment, I suddenly felt I had entered a dream, my own dream. I can remember walking up the sidewalk, but it seemed like I wasn’t walking. It felt like I was on a conveyor belt and everybody was being whisked past me. It was as if I was standing still, they were moving, and the building was getting closer to me. I could see the glass doors of the jail and I just focused on those. I got there, signed in, and for some reason didn’t even have to go through a metal detector.
Somebody said O.J. was in his usual room. They closed the metal door behind me before they opened the other one, and in that moment I focused on making my demeanor strong and upbeat. I made my way into the attorney room. O.J. was off to one side. Skip was already there, as was Bobby Kardashian, who unbeknownst to us had sold O.J. out in a lucrative book deal with Larry Schiller. Kathy Randa was there with her attorney. I went up to O.J. and tried to act normal.
“Hey O.J., how’s it going?”
He just looked at me said, “Oh God. This is crazy Mike.” Before I had a chance to tell him that I had left the photos in the car, he said, “I can’t sign anything today Mike…”
“I completely understand,” I said. “You don’t need to explain. I just thought you might want to be distracted.”
Everybody was talking and buzzing about possible scenarios. The one possibility—that the verdict would be “guilty”–didn’t necessitate any planning, nor was it discussed or ever mentioned. That’s not to say it didn’t weigh very heavily, silently, in all of our minds. But we avoided mentioning it, speaking the words. The other possibility– “not guilty”—that one would require careful planning, so we threw ourselves into that.
The questions were how to get O.J. out of there and where he should go. F. Lee Bailey had offered his private jet to fly O.J. wherever he wanted to go. A few of us, myself included, were pushing for him to fly to Maui and stay at the Ritz Carlton there until the madness died down a little. He of course wanted to see his kids right away, but they were in the custody of the Brown family, so that too was complicated.
Then O.J. said he wanted to make a statement to the press outside the courthouse if he was acquitted.
At that moment the lieutenant at the jail came over and asked if he could talk to me outside. “Sure,” I said, and we went out into the lobby.
“Listen,” he said. “O.J. is under the impression that if the verdict goes his way he can just walk out of the courthouse and address the media on the steps, like Perry Mason. It doesn’t work like that.”
“Okay,” I said. “Then how does it work?”
“If he is found guilty he will immediately be transported to a holding facility until they figure out which prison to send him to.”
“If he is found not guilty he will still have to be transported back to the jail and then processed out. His possessions will be boxed up and returned to him, and he will be released like all other inmates. I’ll show you. Follow me.”
He walked me through the maze of the jail to show me the exit from which O.J. would be released.
“I would suggest that you folks get a few different vehicles.”
“Okay. But O.J. still wants to make a statement.”
“That is not a good idea. We don’t want that.”
“We have received numerous death threats against O.J. People have said that if he is found not guilty they will shoot and kill him as he leaves this jail. For that reason we will most likely have SWAT teams stationed around these buildings to make sure he is safe. As long as he is on this property, he is still our responsibility. We would like him to get off the property as quickly and quietly as possible.”
I felt punched in the stomach. It is a feeling I would experience countless times in the years to come. This was my very first inkling that O.J. would not be welcomed back into the community with open arms.
I went back in to the visiting room and started listening again to the clamor of plans. Various people were offering limos, vehicles, planes, houses…The only one who didn’t seem interested in any of this was O.J. himself. At one point he hushed us. He raised his arms and said, “Guys, guys, slow down. This could all be moot. This could all be a moot fucking point. We don’t know what the verdict is.”
At that, everybody just kind of stopped. Skip broke the silence. “O.J. don’t think like that.”
“But it’s true. We don’t know.”
People have claimed at various times in the media that O.J. knew what the verdict was going to be. That is nonsense —he had no idea.
“Well, the moment is finally here,” I said to him, and he nodded. I asked him what Johnnie had said about the extremely short deliberation time. O.J. said Cochrane thought it was good.
“But he said it could go either way,” he still insisted. “Nobody knows.”
I told O.J. what the lieutenant had said.
“Death threats?” he said. “What the fuck are you talking about? This is crazy. Why are people talking like this?”
“O.J., you can’t make a statement,” I said. “If you get shot, they’ll have the L.A. riots all over again.”
He shook his head in disbelief.
I explained that if he was found not guilty they would have to take him back to the jail and process him out.
He said, “Mike, if I’m not guilty there’s no way I’m going back to that fucking cell.”
“You’re not going back to the cell,” I said. “Your things will all be boxed up and they will quickly get you out, and you will leave the same way any inmate does. And we’ll have several cars.”
“When am I going to see my kids?” he asked. I told him I had no idea but that I understood it was his first priority.
We went back to the group, who were still discussing where O.J. would go if he were to be found not guilty. O.J. had made a decision.
“Listen, folks, I want to go home,” he said. “I don’t want to go to Maui. I don’t want to go to Florida. I want to go home. I have not even been able to grieve for Nicole. I want to go back to the home we shared and grieve and start my life over. I want to see my kids. Just let me go home.”
Everybody was quiet. “Whatever you say O.J.,” I said. “It’s your decision. Just understand, dude, the press will surround your house.”
“I understand that. I still want to go home.”
So that was that.
It was close to 8 pm, the end of visiting hours. Everybody left, and it was only me, Skip and O.J. left in the room.
O.J. put his hand up to the glass partition. He said, “I want you both to know that I love you. I never could have gotten this far without you, both of you. If the verdict is guilty, I never want to see you guys again. I wouldn’t want to burden you with having to come visit me. I wouldn’t have anything to offer, anything to share with you. I’m serious, guys. Don’t come back if the verdict is guilty. Don’t come back ever.”
I looked at him, and wondered if this could be the very last time I ever saw him. The guards said we had to get going.
My last words to him were, “I love you, man. I’ll see you tomorrow at Rockingham.”
They came to take him back to his cell and I remember the sound of the chains rattling against the metal chair, a sound I prayed I would never have to hear again. They led him out of the room and I turned away. I started crying, and so did Skip. We went out to the middle room, and before we exited I said to Skip, “Hang on a second. Let’s not go out yet. We can’t go out there looking like we’ve been crying.” I found a tissue and started drying my eyes, and Skip dabbed his eyes with his sleeve. We took a deep breath and walked out, and as soon as we got out, we were instantly surrounded by the press. I didn’t want to say anything, and definitely didn’t want them to see my face because I had really been crying pretty hard. I dodged right behind them and found a path to get away, a trick I had used before, once I realized that cameramen can’t turn because of the weight and size of their cameras.
I looked back over my right shoulder and saw Skip trapped in a blaze of camera lights. I was thinking about how hard it must have been for him, because Skip truly loved O.J. and had been his friend and attorney for over twenty years, much longer than I had known O.J.
I kept going. I had to let him fend for himself. But I felt bad, like I had left a buddy in battle and allowed him to be surrounded by the enemy.
I got to my car and drove off as fast as I could. I went to the Hyatt, to my room, and my cellphone was ringing absolutely nonstop. CNN got through and asked if they could come and film my reaction as the verdict was read, over at Rockingham. I said, “No way.”
I turned off my cellphone and the hotel phone, and took an Ambien to help me fall asleep. It had no effect. I took another half. Still no effect; I was wide awake. I finally got up and started getting dressed. I decided to drive home then and there. It was about three in the morning and it was a four hour drive. It wasn’t the smartest move I ever made—driving home after taking a dose and a half of Ambien– but I drank a lot of coffee, drove at a steady good speed, and before I knew it, I was home.
I got there about twenty minutes before they read the verdict. The kids were at school. Debbie had the TV on, and a few relatives had come over.
I braced myself and stood stock still in front of the TV. I remember hearing the first part of the verdict, for the first charge, which was “murder,” and when they said “not guilty” I suspended my breathing and said, “Wait, it’s not over yet.” I was thinking that he could still go to jail for life even if one of the lesser charges like “manslaughter” stuck. They continued to repeat “not guilty” all the way through, and the moment I saw O.J. mouth the words “thank you” to the jury and saw Johnnie’s reaction, that was when it hit me.
Every phone in the house started ringing off the hook. It was insane. Everybody from my entire life was calling– people I’d gone to high school with, or worked with at odd jobs I didn’t even recall. Neighbors were knocking on the door, people were just walking right in to the living room, sharing their reactions and asking me questions about what O.J. had said and felt the day before. They were all very upbeat. I was dazed and stunned.
I sat down and just absorbed the moment, took stock. I remember feeling at that time that I had done the right thing by sticking by him, and that now we could go on with our lives. Debbie gave me a very long hug, not a celebratory hug but more of an it’s over hug.
From the moment I had called home from Yosemite on June 13, 1994, to this, almost a year and a half later, our entire lives and consciousness had been dominated by this ordeal. I was worried about the toll it had taken on my family. But truthfully, back then my first instinct was always to worry about O.J. Later, when the cracks in my marriage started to manifest, it was too late. As with almost everything else in this hideous ordeal, it was too late to save it.
I drove to my kids’ school and took them out of class to tell them the news. They already knew.
“Dad, we watched the verdict on TV in the classroom,” Luke told me. I laughed a little. Luke asked, “Does this mean that uncle O.J. can come home now?”
“Yes, sweetheart,” I said, “it does.”
I knew I had to drive back to L.A. and get to Rockingham by nightfall, but first I had some urgent business to attend to. I had had O.J. sign one thousand envelopes in jail, and my brother in law had agreed to help me get them ready for the post office to turn them into what’s called caches, which are envelopes that are stamped and cancelled by the post office to verify their postage date. My brother in law was licking stamps on the entire four- hour drive to L.A., and then we had to wait in line at the post office in downtown Los Angeles to have each of them cancelled. I never wound up selling those, and still have them. I have received so many macabre offers from people for O.J.-related objects they wanted to buy for various ritualistic or commercial purposes. One guy, years later, wanted to affix crime scene photos to those O.J.-signed envelopes and offered me $250,000 for them. They are still in my attic.
By the time I got to Rockingham it was dark, some time after 8 p.m. The media mob had descended there, predictably, and literally engulfed the neighborhood. As far as the eye could see there were news vans, trucks, satellite dishes, and hordes of reporters from every country in the world except possibly North Korea. The house itself had been barraged with deliveries from friends, well-wishers and, we later learned, journalists trying to get inside. Flowers, telegrams, pizzas, ice cream, cakes—everything imaginable was delivered to the house. Before long, it was discovered that the tabloids had made floral deliveries and planted microphones inside the flowers. Other reporters ordered deliveries of various items to be made so they could try to sneak inside when the gates opened, or at least shout questions. Before long, all deliveries had to be left outside the front gate and examined by the security guards.
Those guards opened the gate for me and I went inside. I had only one thing on my mind—to see O.J. The first person I saw inside the house was Larry Schiller, who was dismantling some camera equipment. “Hey, you’re late,” he said, with characteristic lack of subtlety.
“I was working,” I said. I spotted Kathy. She said O.J. was upstairs in his bedroom. The party was winding down by the time I got there, as it had been going on most of the day. I greeted a few people, then quickly went up to the bedroom. The door was ajar. I knocked and walked in.
O.J. was lying on the bed propped up against some pillows. Gretchen Stockdale, whom O.J. had dated, was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking quite stunning. Because Gretchen was jaw-dropping beautiful, prosecutor Marcia Clark assumed she would have the IQ of a raisin. She got on the witness stand and dismantled Clark. Everybody on the defense team was blown away by Gretchen. Marcia kept trying to corner her and make her look stupid, but she just couldn’t do it.
When Gretchen and O.J. broke up, Christy Prody was over, and O.J. told her to pretend she was with a guy named Ed who happened to be at the house. Christy went along, but Gretchen saw through it and confronted O.J. She went off on him the next day, told him to fuck himself.
Gretchen graduated from law school a few years later. I was very happy for her when she broke up with O.J. She and Skip Taft are my two favorite people I met through him. She was very different from a few of the other beauties O.J. dated, who did not strike me as so bright. Like the one who told me, “I knew that I should be with O.J. because my birthmark looks like Africa.” She did have a birthmark that looked like the continent of Africa, but what a thing to say.
Once, she visited O.J. in jail and said, “O.J., do you remember when we went to that big dam in Buffalo?”
Big dam, I thought, in Buffalo?
O.J. and I looked at each other. At the same moment O.J. and I clicked and we both said, “Niagara Falls?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“That’s a waterfall,” I said, “not a dam.”
She said, “Well, I’m not good with geometry.”
“Geography,” O.J. said, “not geometry.”
I later told O.J., “If you get out of here and you marry her, I’ll kill you.”
O.J. lit up when he saw me enter his bedroom. “Michael Gilbert!” he called out, and pulled me right onto the bed on top of him, hugging and kissing me.
“Hey don’t give me jail sex, dude,” I joked. “You’re the one who’s been in prison for a year and a half, not me.”
He laughed, and I sat down on the bed. “I told you I’d see you here,” I said.
“You did, you certainly did,” he said. “Where the fuck have you been all day anyway?”
“Well, while you all were partying, I was working,” I said. “Making sure we can keep paying all our bills around here.” I showed him one of the envelopes and explained about the post office.
He said, “I should have figured, knowing you.”
Somebody brought me a glass of champagne. We all talked and bantered for probably two hours about the verdict and our reactions when it was read. People always ask me what O.J. said about his own response to the verdict that night, and all I can remember is that he said he was extremely happy. I don’t remember specifically what his words were. I do remember that at one point he looked around his bedroom and said, “This is so good, to be back in my own bedroom, in my own bed.” He was in an extremely euphoric mood.
He was still wearing the suit that he was acquitted in, and had a “lucky ring” on his finger that had been braided by one of the inmates out of multi-colored threads pulled from socks. Around midnight, exhausted, I excused myself and told O.J. I would be back in the morning. He hugged me goodbye and thanked me again. I said goodbye to Gretchen and the others, left the party, got my car, and drove to my hotel, totally exhausted. As I was laying on my hotel bed, I was simply thinking the obvious: “Wow. It’s all over. It’s done. The nightmare is over. We can all get back to real life now. Everything is going to normal again.”
I flipped on the TV, and every station was covering it, talking about it. They were showing people’s reactions. Every single one was not only negative but shocked, disgusted, and enraged. Every single station, it was the same thing. It was like a futuristic nightmare world where the TV only shows one story, and within that story was only one emotion: Hate.
You may well call me naïve or worse for not having anticipated this, but I didn’t. I remember O.J. in jail, talking very confidently about being on the A list for every party in Hollywood if he was acquitted. We were like an insulated society; we had our own emotions, values, instincts, reactions. After the acquittal, our bubble world was suddenly pressed against the “real” world, and for the first time, I could see the writing on the wall. I had a sick feeling. It’s like running a marathon, and you give every ounce of energy, you’re exhausted and beaten, you think your lungs are going to explode, but you can see the finish line. Then you look down and they’ve moved the finish line, and you’re nowhere near it. I went from pure jubilation, being full of energy and hope, to a feeling of despair. I laid back in my bed and it hit me like a punch in the gut. It’s not over. Not even close. It was like seeing thousands of raised pitchforks coming down over a hill straight toward your street. This was war, and it had only just begun.
The next morning I turned on the news to see if there was anything I could grasp onto for comfort. There wasn’t. It was the same, on every channel, the same rage-filled responses. They were showing protesters outside of Rockingham with signs that said, “Murderer,” “Butcher,” or, “Get Out Of Our Neighborhood, Killer!” They showed a barricade near the house that somebody had spray-painted with the word, “Murderer.”
I thought to myself, I hope he’s not seeing this shit. But of course, he was. He was watching TV just like everybody else.
A lot of the anti-O.J. sentiment at that time was being driven by feminist groups, particularly the National Organization of Women. Even I was a target. Tammy Bruce, the head of N.O.W.’s Los Angeles chapter, recorded an outgoing message on N.O.W.’s answering machine not long after O.J.’s acquittal giving my home and cell numbers and urging people to call me and tell me what they thought of me. I fielded hundreds of calls—everybody from furious feminists to white supremacists. I decided to talk to as many of the callers as possible, rather than just hide, and I engaged them in real discussions about what it means to respect the rights of others, and what it means to incite hate like Ms. Bruce had done. I recorded a few of the most hate-spewing messages I got, including some from racist groups, and gave it to CNN, which aired a segment on it. They confronted Tammy Bruce with the recordings. Her only quote was deeply sarcastic: “Well, welcome to the real world, Mike Gilbert.”
Denise Brown, who had reinvented herself as a staunch feminist and anti-domestic violence spokesperson, was being interviewed everywhere, furiously denouncing O.J. as a wife-beater and killer. To the best of my knowledge, when she was alive, nobody in Nicole’s family had ever urged Nicole to leave O.J.—not even after the 911 call. Her parents, without question, always urged her to stay in the marriage and try to hold it together. O.J. was very well-liked by Nicole’s family as far as I could tell. He was practically Santa Claus. He had paid for the college tuition of one of Nicole’s younger sisters, Dominique, and had set Lou Brown up with the Hertz car dealership that he ran. He frequently paid for the entire family to vacation in places like Hawaii. This was not lost on the black members of O.J.’s family. His sister Shirley used to comment on the fact that Nicole spent much more of O.J.’s money, at Christmas for example, on what she called “the white folks.”
But all the contradictory, real, complex details of O.J.’s family relations were totally wiped out in the media glare. Nothing was recognizable anymore, nobody was permitted the faintest hint of positive commentary on who O.J. Simpson was, or had been, other than “murderer.” It proved too tempting for many. Everybody became an instant saint in the refracted media light of anti-O.J. sentiment. It quickly got to the point where all you had to do to be a public hero or heroine was denounce O.J. as a killer.
This outpouring of hate reinforced my wish to protect O.J. The attacks were so vicious I felt I had no choice but to fight back. My position was in a sense defined in opposition to theirs. If we could have talked like reasonable people, we would have found points of mutual agreement. I never said—ever—that I thought O.J. was not guilty of the murders. But I still wanted to defend other aspects of the truth about him. Prior to the murders, I’d known him to be a generous person and a good friend. I always used to quote a line of Richard Gere’s from the movie Primal Fear. In that movie, Gere plays a criminal attorney who defends a killer in court. He is in a bar with a journalist who asks him why he does what he does, why he defends the guilty. He replies, “Because I don’t want to judge any man by the worst night in his life. I have always believed that sometimes really good people do really bad things.”
I got to Rockingham that morning with a knot in my stomach. I took something to eat out of the fridge and then went upstairs to O.J., who was still in bed. He muted the TV when I came in. He was truly off the hook, furious, after watching an interviews with Denise and various hardcore feminists.
“Can you believe this shit? I was found fucking not guilty. This is bullshit. These women would never have defended Nicole when she was alive. These are the same types of women who hated Nicole, and hated what she was. That she didn’t have an education, that she married a rich guy, got by in life on her looks. Now they’re gonna use Nicole for a membership drive? This is fucking crazy.”
I saw the suit he’d been wearing the day before, when the verdict was read, crumpled on the floor, near the closet. We had joked about it being his “lucky suit.” I picked it up and put it on a hanger—the slacks, shirt, jacket, and tie.
“O.J, what are you going to do with this? I asked. “This is a piece of history now.”
He looked over. “You want it? Take it. You can have it if you want it. That’s the least I can do. Take it.”
I thanked him. Went downstairs and got a shopping bag, folded the suit into it, and put it in my car. When I went outside, I was struck by the noise of the media who had simply moved “Camp O.J.” now to surround his house and watch his every move. He couldn’t go out. He had to stay in the house, for now, at all times. It occurred to me then that he had gone from being a prisoner in jail to being a prisoner in his house. The only difference was his cell was bigger now. And now he had something worse than chains. The prison guards had maintained strict order around him, and he had been sheltered from the reality outside, from the rage of the mob. This rage only matured fully when he was acquitted. Now he was on his own, and he found his world getting more and more ominous and claustrophobic. He was hunted, hated, abjected, exiled. Little by little, he lost everything that had ever mattered to him, beginning with his image, his friends, his business partners. Eventually he lost his house, his possessions, even his Heisman trophy.
People ask me where the suit is today. It’s in the same place where it has been all these years, hanging in my closet in Hanford. It still has a fleck of blood on the collar of the shirt, where he cut himself shaving the morning he was released. I know the world of memorabilia collectors, and how much they are willing to spend to own an iconic piece of American pop culture history. I’ve been offered as much as $50,000 for the suit. At one point, Howard Stern declared he wanted to buy it, in order to set it on fire in a public place. I never participated in, or provided materials for, any of this kind of O.J. voodoo being acted out. In fact, I never sold anything, even when I was dead broke. At least that’s something small to be proud of.
Over the years, O.J. forgot that he had given me that suit, and decided he wanted it back. He had been led to believe it was in that hotel room in Las Vegas, and went bursting in. I can see why it would have emotional and symbolic meaning to him. I have lost a lot of my humanity over these past 14 years, but I am still human enough to find it heart-rending that in the end O.J. trapped himself. And the lucky suit that he believed represented his freedom is now the very suit that may put him in prison for the rest of his life.
O.J. and I were alone at Rockingham, with nobody around, a few weeks later. The kids were with their grandparents, the Browns, and the security guard was out in the guard shack. We had finished some business we had to tend to and I was spending the night there and driving home to Hanford the next day. We had been upstairs and OJ had gone out on the balcony to smoke some pot, a habit he acquired after the criminal trial. Marijuana had the same effect on him as it does most people, it made him slow, a little bit melancholy, more relaxed. It was pouring rain outside and that had a calming effect as well. We were both drinking Rolling Rocks, and for once we weren’t trying to get anything done, or struggling to evade some immense impending threat.
It was a long, strangely hazy night. We sat around, we talked, we went outside, sometimes we sat quietly and said nothing. At one point it stopped raining and O.J. took me outside because he wanted to show me something. It was a huge tree in the back yard that I had never given any particular thought to before.
He told me it had been a very special tree to both him and Nicole, but especially to Nicole. “Nicole loved this tree,” he said. “It was dying and we got on a crusade to save it. Spent thousands, and consulted all these tree specialists. It took a lot of work but finally we turned it around.” He showed me where they had carved their names into the trunk. He liked to go stand under that tree, he said. One thing that struck me was that although he seemed to grieve his own loss, he never once wept for Nicole. He never once said, “I wonder what she went through,” or “I hope she didn’t suffer.” Never once.
We came downstairs and sat down in the living room. The only sound was the rain against the windows. It was now or never, I felt. This was my chance. I didn’t know if I really wanted to know the answer, but something about the atmosphere that night gave me the courage to ask him. I remember trying to steady my voice.
“OJ,” I said, “what happened that night? What happened June 12th?”
He took a breath, and leaned back. He did that familiar sigh. He got a very pensive look on his face. He looked at me. “What do you think?” he said. “What do you think happened that night, Mike?”
I hesitated for a while. I thought: Do I just give him the same pat answer that everybody gives him? I gave very careful consideration to what I was about to say, and how I was going to say it. I finally answered: “O.J., I believe you were there. I have always believed you were there. Whatever happened…happened. I don’t believe it was your intention. I don’t know if you know you did it, if you think you did it, but yes, I believe that …you did it.”
I remember looking at him as I was saying this, and waiting for shock, waiting for him to stop me. But he didn’t. He looked at me with no expression, no emotion, nothing.
Then he said, “Mike, I did go there that night, but I didn’t take a knife.”
It was quiet for a moment and I said gently, “I know that, because you told that to A.C.”
We didn’t say any more.
Nothing more needed to be said.
Shortly after this, we both turned in for the night. It started to hit me what had just happened. I had asked to be burdened with the truth, and now I was. I felt very strange. It was so quiet in the house and I was all alone. I went down to the kitchen to get some fruit, some apples, and a knife to cut them with. I brought the fruit and the knife up to my room. In the eerie quiet, I started getting more and more apprehensive. I wanted to barricade the bedroom doors, but it was a double door that opened outward and it was impossible. I placed a chair and my suitcase near the door, and placed the knife on the bedside table, just as a neurotic form of imaginary protection. What if O.J. decided he had said too much? I knew my mind was playing tricks on me, and wondered if I was going crazy myself.
His denial was always rooted entirely in his insistence that he was not there that night. He had always strenuously denied it. A few of us in the inner circle, though, knew that he had admitted to this. Al Cowlings had told a man named Mike Pullers, a former close friend of O.J.’s, and Pullers had told me. I confronted A.C. about this when he and I were at the Hyatt Hotel not long after O.J. was incarcerated, signing black and white NFL photographs of himself and O.J.
A.C. came clean right away, and confirmed what I had heard. We talked about it from many angles. I remember him talking about how impossible it was to imagine Nicole confronting drug lords, which was O.J.’s proposed scenario.
“Nicole was a chicken,” A.C. said. “Remember when she was too scared to drive under the overpasses after the 1992 earthquake?”
I did. For a good year after the earthquake, Nicole had been so afraid that she exited at every overpass. I said, “Mike Pullers told me that you told him that O.J. told you he went there that night but didn’t bring a knife.”
“So then why is it okay?” I asked. “Why do we stay with him? Why do we continue to defend him?”
I remember AC’s words very clearly. He said, pretty forcefully, “What good would it do? Mike, it’s like this. The kids already don’t have a mom. If we help put OJ in jail for the rest of his life, then they don’t have a dad. And now they have it proven to them that their dad murdered their mom. We can’t do that to them.”
I nodded. Part of me accepted this simple inner circle logic. Another part of me felt something else, but I didn’t say it. The something else was the obvious: We would do it because it would be justice. The trouble was, we all knew O.J. and we knew he wasn’t a crazed killer, like a Charles Manson type who would go out and kill again. We knew he was strung out on Prozac. We knew that everything had aligned that night for this catastrophe to occur, and that it would never happen again. Everything that could go wrong that night did go wrong, like I said. Nicole had shunned him, none of his friends were around, Marcus was in the Cayman Islands, I was in Yosemite. All of us were gone. Everybody he could lean on was gone. There was nobody there to reel him back in.
I remember the complex ambiguity of something else A.C. said.
“Mike, if Nicole wouldn’t have opened the door with a knife, none of it would have happened.”
Well, that is one way of looking at it.
This thing has taken on the deep mysticism of an ancient, impossible to obtain secret, like the riddle of the Sphinx, but that that’s all just veils and smoke and posture. The truth has been lying on the ground at our feet right out in the open the entire time.
Selling O.J. Piece by Piece
I can hear his voice to this day. Gruff and menacing. “Gilbert,” he told my answering machine, “you will be in the wrong place at the wrong time and I’ll kill you and your nigger client. We’ll kill your kids too, cut their throats like Ron and Nicole, and leave them on your doorstep.”
Charming. And that was just one of the hundreds of calls I got after N.O.W.’s Tammy Bruce gave my number out to the world. I guess you could say they were wake-up calls. My golden goose of a client, my former idol who’s name had been so adored, was now the most reviled man in the country.
Nothing in contemporary American history has revealed the Grand Canyon still dividing White American from Black America like the reactions to O.J.’s acquittal did. Black America rejoiced, as one writer put it, like they’d just won the Super Bowl. White America was aghast, appalled, enraged.
I had to walk through the hate storm to believe it. Before it was all over, I would go from being pampered like a king, with five-star treatment wherever we went, to having my life threatened on a regular basis just for being O.J. Simpson’s agent.
It was like something out of another century, or out of a bad movie, the levels of hate and terror that were unleashed by the O.J. verdict. Each day, we thought it would die down, and each day it just grew and grew.
I wish I had kept track and counted the number of times I had to hear the word “nigger” (about O.J.) and “white nigger” (about me.) We were primarily targeted by two political groups when O.J. got out of jail: white supremacists and extreme feminists. Talk about your unholy alliances. I think everybody in between, “ordinary Americans,” mostly got swept up in it, but would never have generated so much of an uproar if left to their own devices.
I got threats all the time from what I call feminazis. Tammy Bruce’s obsession with O.J., and the apparent racism that fueled it, have been well documented. During the trial, she denounced O.J. with practically every breath she took on her L.A. talk radio show. When it was announced that a verdict was in, she uncorked a bottle of champagne on air, she was so confident O.J. had been found guilty. When he was acquitted instead, she organized candlelight vigils and protest demonstrations outside Rockingham.
In her crusading zeal, she made some huge and revealing tactical blunders. On ABC’s “Nightline” she basically declared that abuse of women was a more important issue than racism, and actually blurted out that focusing on domestic violence provided “a needed break from all that talk of racism.” Then she turned down an invitation to appear on a Philadelphia radio talk show, saying that she didn’t want to “argue with a bunch of black women” about O.J.
Her superiors at N.O.W. publically censured her and apologized for those remarks. Bruce left N.O.W. a few months later. She went on to become a popular pundit on conservative media. Her web site describes her as “an openly gay, pro-choice, gun owning, pro-death penalty, voted-for-President Bush authentic feminist.” Make of that whatever you want.
I got hate calls from the Klan, and from white supremacists. “You helped a nigger get away with murder. You are no better. You’re a white nigger.” Of course, I think they hated O.J. because he was a black man who had “miscegenated with” a beautiful blonde white woman. I really don’t think it was so much about the fact that he had murdered her as the fact that he had had sex with her, “defiled” her. There was also the fact that the Dream Team that “got him off” for the murder was made up of Jews and blacks. We heard a lot of vile and idiotic ranting from them. Tom Metzger, the founder of the neo-Nazi White Aryan Resistance, wrote that “O.J. had served the international Jew conspiracy in a most powerful way, suggesting by phony example that racially mixed marriage and mongrelization could be a glamorous lifestyle for the elite.” He suggested the Jews had butchered Nicole kosher-style, framed O.J., and then “sent their best shysters in to defend him.”
Then again, there was the counter conspiracy theory that it was the white supremacists themselves who murdered Nicole and Ron and framed O.J. That’s just one small example of the kinds of hysterical lunacy the O.J. verdict provoked.
Oddly enough, at the same time as this was going on, my phone was ringing off hook with people wanting to book O.J. for the first public appearances after his release. The very first post-jail deal we attempted was a microcosm of what was to come. It was with a Pennsylvania-based company called Signature Rookies, a major sports card memorabilia company. The deal was an appearance and autograph contract for $1 million. O.J. had to make an appearance and sign about 50,000 autographs on selected items and some different type of inscriptions.
O.J. received so many sacks of mail in jail, at least hundreds of thousands of letters, both positive and negative, and we had kept a lot of it. We had agreed to give Signature Rookies the positive letters, so they could market these to O.J.’s fans. The gentlemen from Signature Rookies, Tim Slatt and Paul Golden, and I were to have a press conference in New York to announce the deal within a few days of O.J.’s release.
Meanwhile, O.J. was booked to do an unpaid interview with NBC, in Burbank, CA, four days after verdict, with Bryant Gumbel. He believed this would take care of everything. He would explain everything, and as Nicole had put it, “O.J. his way out.”
The President of NBC West Coast, John Olmeyer, a close friend of O.J., called him and warned him that it was going to be “brutal,” and that there was nothing he could do personally to help or protect O.J., because this was not his department. This was not entertainment, but news.
At that point, O.J. started to get worried, but he still wanted to do it. He wanted his image back, very badly. He was obsessed with doing what he imagined to be the great Everything Is Forgiven TV interview, where he would be believed and heard and understood and redeemed.
But the skies were darkening and the drums were beating. Now NBC was dealing with threats, bomb threats, mass public outrage, threats of boycotts.
O.J.’s attorneys, meanwhile, cautioned him that everything that came out of his mouth would be used against him in the pending civil suit–everything. They told him to watch every single word he said in private and public. Well, that’s useless advice to a non-stop talker like O.J.
On the day of the scheduled NBC interview, I got a call from Skip saying it was cancelled. O.J. would not do it.
We regrouped and talked about what to do next. Most of us thought this was a minor storm that would pass, and that maybe if we just laid low, the tide would turn by itself in a few days. I was the one most in favor of putting O.J. back out there. I told O.J. and Skip that we needed to do something to turn public opinion, or at least spin public opinion.
“If we don’t, we’re just sitting here taking a beating,” I said. “It’s just going to get worse.”
I met with Signature Rookies and we all agreed to put the press conference on hold, sit back and wait for tide to past. In the coming days and weeks, it just got worse and worse and worse. Anti-O.J. sentiment had metastasized into a cult or crypto- religion within days of his release, and there was nothing whatsoever anybody could day or do to affect it. I don’t think Jesus Christ could have calmed people down.
Soon we realized that anybody who did business with us would themselves be jeopardized, and it came down to whether we could force them to honor their contracts or not. For that first $1 million contract, Signature Rookies wound up asking me if they could form a secondary, front company just so that their name would not be targeted by hate and protest. I feared that a second company, which had no assets, would just be a way for them to get out of the contract legally.
As it worked out, after a few weeks they did start to look for ways to breach the contract. It was becoming more and more evident that it wouldn’t work.
Ultimately, we kept $50,000 of their money, they kept the cards and we both walked away. Signature Rookies went bankrupt a year or two later. I believe that it died of the plague, not natural causes.
But there would be many, many more opportunities to market O.J. memorabilia, O.J.’s signature—O.J. himself—over the coming years. I know many people find that appalling. I can only say you don’t understand how celebrity and fame work in America.
I’d add that almost everyone involved in the O.J. case, on both sides, marketed their experiences somehow. Everything had a price, and everybody was buying or selling. Those on the side of the victims were, in many cases, the ones who profited most. Prosecutor Marcia Clark got a $4 million advance for her book on the trial and pursued a post-O.J. career as a television expert on criminal justice. Nicole Simpson’s father sold her diaries to the National Enquirer, the same paper to which her sister Dominique sold topless photos of Nicole. Nicole’s parents sold use of O.J. and Nicole’s wedding video to “A Current Affair.”
As one L.A.-based TV correspondent who toiled long hours during the trials said: “I think he’s guilty, but I bought my house because of this guy.”
At the center of this industry stood O.J. himself — a pariah, at least in American public life, but the possessor still of a legendary autograph. Once it was a sports hero’s signature, then it was an infamous one, but maybe also a historic one.
For years after the verdict, I arranged for O.J. to do a private signing for memorabilia dealers about once a month. Month after month, year in and year out. A typical signing would be in a hotel conference room where O.J. signed hundreds of items –maybe 200 footballs, 100 USC jerseys, 100 Buffalo Bills jerseys. Several thousand signed items in a given year.
Of course, O.J.’s financial picture was complicated by the outcome of the ’96/’97 civil trial that found him liable for the killings. During the trial, the survivors of Nicole and Ron Goldman asserted that O.J. was worth at least $15.7 million. His financial advisers argued, to no avail, that he was actually $9 million in debt after paying for his criminal defense, and that his future earning prospects were minimal. (O.J. also got a $25,000-a-month NFL pension that no civil judgment could touch.)
Even before the murders, O.J.’s net worth was estimated at no more than $10 million. Despite that, on March 9th, 1997, a jury awarded the plaintiffs a total of $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Fred Goldman’s share was worth almost $13.5 million. His ex-wife, Sharon Rufo, Ron’s mother, had not seen her son for fourteen years and was accordingly awarded “only” $7.5 million. The estate of Nicole Brown Simpson, which included Sydney and Justin, was awarded $12.5 million.
The judgment was based on the faulty assumption by an expert witness during the trial, who declared that O.J. Simpson would be able to earn around $3 million a year by telling his story and signing autographs. That was totally absurd. In reality, he could make at the most $50,000 to $75,000 a year doing autographs. I couldn’t guarantee Michael Jordan $3 million a year from signatures. Because at a certain point, the market becomes saturated.
One thing both sides agreed on: The income he earned from his autograph was not going to the Goldman and Brown families. As the years rolled by, O.J. did not pay any of his mammoth debt, which grew by almost $10,000 a day in interest alone. Winning the civil judgment against him was one thing. Collecting it was another matter altogether. In fact, the size of the award made it virtually impossible for the Brown or Goldman families to collect.
You see, to get the money from O.J., they would have to catch him as soon as he made it, before he could spend it. The only money they made was from auctioning off his things, and from me. I turned over up to $8,000 of my own income. But that was it.
The only money they could make was by seizing and auctioning off his possessions. They wanted not only his valuable possessions, they wanted his most sacred totemic objects from his football career, for sacrificial voodoo purposes. Things like his Heisman trophy, his NFL game worn jersey, his original Buffalo Bills game played footballs.
O.J. was of course utterly defiant, and uncooperative. It was a very strange situation, to say the least. He owed $33.5 million dollars that he did not have to the family of a man he insisted he did not kill.
We knew, at a certain point, that we were going to lose everything. The funny thing is, we started to become adept at that too, at losing. We did it shrewdly.
We knew, for example, that we were going to lose the civil suit in Santa Monica almost as soon as it began, for the obvious reasons that Santa Monica is predominantly white, and the burden of proof is much lower in a civil suit. Our focus was to keep the dollar amount of the judgement as low as possible.
O.J. had blown through astronomical sums of money during the criminal trial. Between lawyer’s fees, expert fees, travel expenses, court fees and so on, it was as much as $25,000 a day some days. Between $10,000 and $25,000 per day I would say. He started losing money from the day he went to jail. He immediately lost all his endorsement deals. It never even had to be formally spoken; I just let those go without a word. What do you say?
“Oh really, you don’t want O.J. to be your spokesperson anymore? Gee, why not?”
O.J. lost most of his $11 million fortune in jail, paying for his defense—about $9 million. He was still paying off various lawyers long after he got out, sometimes with cars or other highly valuable objects, to settle debts.
I was with him in jail when he was served the papers for the first civil suit, filed by Sharon Rufo, Ron Goldman’s mother. He didn’t have much of a reaction, and seemed to know it was coming. That was always hovering on our minds as the next major crisis—but first we had to get O.J. out of jail.
When he did get out of jail, his fortune was down to about $3 million. All he had in front of him at that point were his NFL pension, whatever money we could raise doing signings, and insanely, the monetary value of a true confession of the murders, were he to decide to go that route. Once upon a time his money rolled in because of his football talent. Now his only remaining worth was to confess to two brutal murders. If he did that, the assets would of course be owed to the civil judgment. (What Judith Regan and Rupert Murdoch were thinking when they decided to pay O.J. $1 million to write his confessional book, If I Did It, which he has since called “a fictional account,” is anybody’s guess. I could have told them that it would capsize.)
He also had many valuable possessions—cars, houses, condos, art, expensive carpets, lamps, and all kind of sports memorabilia (mostly his own). Between legal debts for the two trials, the civil judgment, and the destruction of his name, he resigned himself to losing his earthly possessions, and in typical O.J. style, feigning a slight diffidence. He had worked very hard to amass all this wealth, all these things, but once his image and status were destroyed, he no longer had the deep connection to it, or the need for it.
One thing that did infuriate him was when we got a notice from Fred Goldman’s attorneys that they had found out that O.J.’s mother, Eunice, lived in a fairly valuable house that was in O.J.’s name. They went after that house while Eunice was still in it, age 79. It never came to pass that Eunice got booted out of her house, but it was close.
Looking back, it seems like a biblical flood that carried away absolutely everything. I said to him once, when the financial cat and mouse game between O.J. and the Goldman team was well underway: “O.J., you are hurting yourself more than them. Instead of hiding from the Goldmans, why don’t you make them a deal? Why don’t we just end this thing? Go to Goldman and say, ‘Listen, we’ll give you 30 percent of whatever we generate.’ They won’t protest that. It will stop all the rage, the protests—we can say we are paying off the civil judgement. Our lives can be a little normal maybe.”
“No,” he said, darkly, “fuck that. I am not going to give them a dime. They will get nothing. I didn’t kill them.”
He was resolute on this.
“Okay, O.J., okay,” I would say, with a sigh.
And so he lost and lost. The first condo he lost was the one he had in New York, on East 65th St., in the Bristol Plaza. He lost another condo in Laguna Beach, and all the furniture was put into storage units in California. O.J. didn’t want movers to move his things out of the New York condo, so he asked me if I would do it personally. I agreed, but told him it would cost more than movers would cost—renting a van, driving cross country. He didn’t care about the cost, he just didn’t want movers to come in, mainly because he feared they would tip off the press.
“There’s stuff in that apartment that belongs to my kids and that belonged to Nicole,” he said. “I don’t want people I don’t know going through that stuff.”
So my brother and I flew to New York and rented a moving van. It took us three days to load it. Some of the stuff went to storage in California, some went to Rockingham, some went to Arnelle, O.J.’s oldest daughter. There was a wicker bedroom set in Sydney’s room that O.J. told me Nicole had picked out. He wanted me to give it to my daughter Lindsay. She still has it, to this day.
We moved every last thing out in those three days, and we managed to do it without the press finding out.
The next place we had to clear out was the Laguna beach house he’d shared with Nicole. That was me and a guy named Gary Raza. We cleared that one out much faster—furniture, golf cart, household items, a jet ski. It was incredibly sad to walk around there in that ghostly beach house. You could almost hear the shrieks of happy beach-bound kids, without a care in the world. I could see Nicole walking around barefoot, with a towel around her waist and her sunglasses up on her head, telling O.J. to shut up. Nicole was always barefoot when she could be.
We started selling off all the things that mattered least first, starting with the condo, a few cars—his Bentley and his Ferrari, the Laguna beach house, his shares in restaurant chains—until we got down to the thing we all dreaded most.
The crowning jewel of O.J.’s earthly possessions was Rockingham, the opulent, sprawling home he’d lived in since 1977.
Rockingham was a huge part of O.J.’s life. He had always loved that house more than just about anything. He’d lived there with both of his wives, and raised two families there. He lived there though the best times of his life, and the worst. We never thought of it as “O.J.’s house.” It was “Rockingham,” just like Elvis’ house was Graceland.
We knew they were going to place liens on O.J’s property and possessions, but we did not know when or how. I arrived at Rockingham one day in 1997, with my son Luke, for what I thought was going to be a normal business day with O.J. Instead when I pulled up I noticed several other cars, which was odd that early in the morning. I rolled into the driveway. People were moving and taping boxes. I walked into the house and it was a madhouse, with all kinds of people walking around with cardboard boxes.
The first person I saw in the kitchen was Kathy. I asked her what the hell was going on.
“We have been informed that the Sheriff is coming in the morning to seize all of O.J.’s valuables,” she said. “It was faxed to us by one of the guards at the L.A. jail. Anything we don’t want them to seize we have to get out of here now.”
The Goldmans had hired a moving company to come the next day to pick up OJ’s stuff. O.J. was out playing golf. That way he had deniability. Everyone else was moving out valuable stuff.
I took off my jacket and rolled up my sleeves. We had very little time, and it was just chaos, boxes and people and things going this way and that. People took stuff to their homes, to storage, you name it. The problem was no one kept track of where went what. Most of the stuff O.J. saw again, but not all.
The court order stated that O.J. was allowed to keep necessary living items, which created a grey area. A lamp is a necessity, but is a $65,000 Tiffany lamp a necessity? We found the Goldmans had gotten a list from O.J.’s insurance company estimating his valuables, stating the value of every Persian carpet or Tiffany lamp in the house. So the game plan was to move as much as we could, hide as much as we could, and replace that which could be replaced.
His good golf clubs, for example. I packed them into one of the cars. Then I went by Salvation Army and bought some cheap old golf clubs and left them in the garage.
One of O.J.’s most prized possessions was his old USC jersey. It hung in a glass case in the living room. We couldn’t let them seize that. We had a bunch of replica jerseys he would sign so we could sell them to the public. In fact, we found some in the house that he had mis-signed somehow. He might have misspelled his name, or the ink ran out, something of that nature. We decided to replace the real one with one of those. But the replica looked too new. So we took it outside and rubbed it around on the lawn, kicked some dirt on it to make it look worn. We took apart the glass case and put the dirty replica in there.
We did the same with his authentic game balls, switched them for replicas. Everything valuable that could be replaced was. It went on all night. At some point in the night O.J. wanted to come home. He’d played golf, he’d had some drinks afterward, he was drunk and sleepy. But we weren’t done and he couldn’t see what we were doing, so he could plausibly deny knowledge of it later. Also, if the sherriff knew he was home, he could serve O.J. the papers as of 12:01 a.m., and we didn’t want that, because we were nowhere near done making all those replacements. So we had someone drive down the street get him, and sneak back with O.J. in the car. He parked in the garage, and O.J. crawled out of the car and went inside the house through the garage. He was drunk, mumbling, stumbling, singing. Whistling the theme song from Wizard of Oz and singing, “If I only had a brain.”
“O.J., shut up,” I said. “Nobody can know that you’re here.”
We packed him off to bed, while the rest of us went on taping boxes, loading cars, and driving off for the rest of the night.
By 7 a.m. the only ones left in the house were me, my son Luke asleep in Kato’s old room, and O.J. asleep up in his room. I was still loading items into my BMW, which looked like a low rider because it was so loaded with stuff. I went up to O.J.’s bedroom to wake him, and saw the Goldmans’ two moving vans pulling up.
“I can’t keep my eyes open,” I told O.J. “We’ve done a lot, but there’s stuff in the garage we couldn’t get to. Take a look real quick look before they come in.”
We went downstairs and did a quick walk-through together. He was impressed by how much we’d replaced. But he did point to a Persian rug and say, “No, no, we’ve got to grab this. You don’t know how much this carpet is worth.”
I rolled it up.
“O.J., I have to get to get out here. My car is on your property and they might want to go through it and see if I’m removing anything.”
We went and woke Luke. O.J. ruffled his hair fondly, which he often did. We told Luke to get ready, and I went upstaurs with O.J. In his bedroom he suddenly said, “Shit. I can’t have this around.”
He reached under his bed and pulled out this wicked-looking machine gun, some sort of fully automatic assault weapon. My eyes bugged.
“Where did that come from?”
“Oh, some guy over at SWAT.”
I was thinking yes, that would be a hell of a sight. The sherriff, the movers and the media knock on the door, and O.J. answers with a machine gun in his hand.
“We’ve got to hide it,” I told him.
So we went back downstairs. O.J. unrolled the Persian rug and rolled the gun up in it, and handed it to me.
O.J. walked me and Luke to the door and gave me a hug.
“Alright, buddy. Thanks for everything. I appreciate it. Luke, I’ll see you later. Go get some breakfast.”
Luke and I walked out at the same time. I put the carpet with the gun in my trunk. As I drove my low-rider BMW out the Rockingham gate, the sherriff and his crew were driving in the Ashford gate. As we drove away, Luke looked around the car sleepily and asked, “What’s all this stuff?”
“It’s just stuff we’re keeping for Uncle O.J.”
I kept expecting to see blinking lights in the mirror. I didn’t relax until we reached the 405. We drove to a Denny’s for breakfast.
That replica USC jersey was later sold for several thousand dollars by the Los Angeles auction house Butterfield and Butterfield in 1999. The buyer took it to the courthouse where O.J.’s murder trial had been to burn it on the steps as a protest. The hilarious thing is, instead of just burning, the way the real jersey would have, it almost exploded in his face—because, being a cheap knock-off, it was polyester. That should have tipped someone off that it was a fake, but it didn’t.
And where is the real jersey? In a very safe and secure place.
Among the numerous other items auctioned off that day in 1999 was O.J.’s Heisman trophy. It went for $230,000. And it was the real one, not a fake. It would have been awfully hard for us to fake.
I first saw it the very first time I went to Rockingham to meet my idol O.J. Simpson in 1989. It was in a glass case. It felt like I was seeing the Holy Grail. In fact, I think ultimately I was much more attached to that thing emotionally than he was. To me, after all that happened, the Heisman was the symbol of a paradise lost, a sacred object. It was a great achievement, a trophy he had won fair and square, and I fought long and hard to keep it from becoming a token of destruction, a way for people to vent their fury against O.J.
Fred Goldman had told the press that he wanted to get hold of the trophy so he could smash it with a sledge hammer. There was also talk of melting it down and making Nicole Brown Simpson angel pins out of it.
I wanted something—anything—to be kept away from that mob fury, to preserve a small piece of history, of who O.J. had been. It was very personal. Not only was O.J. a hero, and my hero, when he won that trophy, but it also represented a time when I myself was still innocent.
O.J. won that trophy the day his first child, Arnelle, was born, in December of 1968. My feeling was: They can punish him however they like, but they can’t take this away. They can’t take away what he did on the field.
The battle over the Heisman was like the battle over O.J.’s soul. I wanted it protected at all costs because it held and symbolized O.J.’s achievements as an athlete. The Goldmans wanted it for that very same reason—to be able to achieve revenge on “O.J. Simpson,” by crushing the very place where that identity was formed. Their objective, I believe, was to find a way to hurt O.J.. Which I must say he provoked himself by always taunting the Goldmans. For my part, I was no longer sure if I was defending “O.J. Simpson,” the athlete, O.J. Simpson, the man, myself, a vanquished dream, or my own self-image. All I knew was I had to fight. The battle was on, and I was prepared to fight to the death.
In 1997, O.J. was ordered to turn over the Heisman along with other valuables as part of the civil judgment. Funnily enough, though, it had vanished from its glass case at Rockingham. O.J. testified in his deposition for the civil trial that he came home from golf one day and it was just not there. Like a missing Pepsi from the fridge or something. He was completely nonchalant about it and said he had no idea where it was. He claimed he didn’t “really think much about it.”
Fred Goldman’s attorneys came after me and Skip Taft and accused us of hiding it, which was not true. The Heisman was, at that time, being held by Leo Turrell, a black attorney in L.A. who never worked on any of O.J.’s legal cases, but was a close friend of O.J.’s. Leo also had lots of things that had been collected by O.J.’s sister after we lost the judgment but before they collected on it. Leo kept these things safe in his office, and nobody ever thought to look there.
While the Heisman was “missing,” one of the tabloids offered something like $100,000 to whoever found it. Our lie was that I had seized it and that O.J. had no idea I had done so. I didn’t have it, and O.J. knew exactly where it was, of course. We all just did what needed to get done, quietly, wink wink, often without saying a word to any of the others, because it did not need to be said and one was careful not to rope in others when it could be avoided.
We knew we were going to have to turn it over, or some of us were going to wind up in jail, in contempt of court. I was given a deadline of December 15 1997 to turn it over or go to jail. Finally we worked it out that I got the trophy from Leo and turned it over to
one of O.J.’s attorneys, Ron Slate, who gave it up. Another item, wracked with tragic irony, was a 2ft by 3 ft plaque that Disney had presented to O.J. when they anointed him as their Man Of The Year.
When we got to Ron Slate’s office, before we went in, I stopped. As a final act of defiance, and without even thinking about it too carefully, I unscrewed the name plate from the trophy and put it in my pocket along with the screws. This was crazy of course. But I was stalling for time. If they didn’t have the nameplate, in my mind, there was still a small piece of him, of O.J. the football hero, that they did not have. They could smash it, burn it, melt it down, but this way, without the name plate, they couldn’t completely humiliate him. Because he won it on the day that Arnelle was born, I had always hoped Arnelle would get to keep it, and I felt that would have been fair. When I removed the nameplate, my thought was that maybe we could have another trophy made, and put O.J.’s nameplate on that one.
I never dreamed it would cause such a hell storm—a new one now. The nameplate was estimated to be worth up to a quarter of a million dollars. Over the next several months, I was subpoenaed, deposed, and ordered by courts six different ways till sundown to turn over the nameplat, or go to jail. I finally took it over to O.J., who had by then moved out of Rockingham to a house on Alta Mura.
I said, “O.J., it’s up to you. You want me to hold it? I’ll hold it, and go to jail.”
O.J. was quiet for a moment, then said, “Turn it over.”
I handed it to O.J. He was holding it, looking at it. Then he got up, walked to a kitchen drawer, and took something out. At first I wasn’t sure what he was doing. I walked over to him. He had a knife, and he was defacing the name plate on the kitchen table.
I said, “O.J., stop. What are you doing? We can fight this. We’ll get it back in court.”
He said, “No Mike, I’ll never see it again.”
“You can’t be sure.”
“Mike, we’ll never see it again.”
He started gashing the plate. The scratches weren’t going deep enough. He grabbed a screwdriver and started digging with the screwdriver, slashing harder. This was his last act of defiance. But he was defacing himself. It was among the saddest sights of my entire life.
I want to say to whoever the person is who owns the trophy today—if they want to know how all those scratches and gashes got there, it was done by O.J., just like he did to Ron and Nicole. It was that same frustrated anger and rage. There you have it.
By the way, I still have the original screws. I ran up over $20,000 in legal bills over the Heisman and the nameplate. The guy who bought the trophy at the auction called me two or three times asking me for those screws. I’m not giving them over.
When O.J. was questioned about it by Rolling Stone in 2000, he said: “I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to buy somebody else’s trophy. That was kind of perplexing. But losing the trophy really didn’t mean that much to me. I guess I kind of wish I had it now, for my kids. I feel about football the way I feel about high school. It’s part of my past. It’s just something I did.”
As usual, O.J. doesn’t care, right? That’s always his answer and his central lie, that he didn’t care so much. Not about Nicole, not about her affair with Marcus, not about that trophy, not about what people think of him.
Of course he cares. He cares deeply. Why can’t he be honest? This entire nightmare we have all been trapped in for almost 15 years is the result of O.J.’s total inability to be honest. This, in turn, is a by-product of the culture of sports and hero worship and celebrity. I myself fostered and fed it—that was my profession as a sports marketing agent. It’s a tissue of lies and delusions that we all create in order not to have to deal with the pain, humiliation, and difficulty of being real people, real men, who hurt, and cry, and suffer. None of that is tolerated or admitted in the narrow world of sports hero worship. If it were, the dream would all fall apart. It’s lies that make money, not truth.
Financially, the whole civil judgment thing was so bizarre and complex. Just to give you one of countless examples of financial Gordian knots: Lou Brown had sold the rights to Nicole’s diaries to the tabloids for $1 million, claiming she had left them in her safe deposit box in an envelope addressed “to Dad.” But funnily enough, he could never produce the envelope. O.J. felt that money should go to the kids, not to the Brown family. That was something that came up for discussion a lot.
The three parties had a joint settlement, the Browns, the Goldmans and Sharon Rufo, Ron’s mother. It wasn’t divided equally three ways. It was very convoluted, based on who had spent what on lawyers and all kinds of factors, where human loss is calculated. Human loss, of course, is incalculable. In the end, it degenerated into what I call cannibalism, because instead of it being fair and equitable it became all about who got there first. O.J. was willing to let assets go to the estate of Nicole, i.e. his kids, but not to the Goldmans or Sharon Rufo. The Brown family, in turn, were left in a position where if they helped the Goldmans, they hurt Sydney and Justin. It was so Byzantine, I doubt anybody alive can describe it all accurately.
That 1999 auction reportedly netted the victims’ families just under $400,000. Obviously, that didn’t even make a dent in the interest on the $33.5 million O.J. was ordered to pay. It was an unattainable number that he could never come up with as long as he lived, even before the murders. If it had been a few million dollars, we could have paid it off. Somebody could have paid it for him, possibly one of his wealthy friends. Instead, the enormity of the sum, in keeping with everything about this case, made it crushing, impossible, and even absurd.
At one point there was talk, between the attorneys, of a settlement, but Goldman rejected it. Maybe the Goldmans are telling the truth when they say “it’s not about the money.” What they want is to pursue O.J. to the last breath he draws. And I think they will.
I can’t say I blame them.
I do, sincerely, empathize with the Goldmans. All those years, we all had what we called the “bunker mentality,” and for me, the Goldmans were the bad guys, because of this battle we were in. But the longer I have been away from O.J. the worse I feel for Mr. Goldman. I wish I could take back every cutting thing I ever said about him.
I put my sons’ faces on Ron Goldman, and it breaks my heart. When I reviewed the timeline of June 12, I saw that he had clocked out of work at Mezzaluna at 9:33 pm, and apparently 42 minutes later he was dead. Why? Because he was being a good guy, being thoughtful, being a good friend, just like the kind of thing my kids would do, go return somebody’s glasses.
When I saw that timeline I started thinking about what I was doing at that exact time, and I started crying, for the first time in years. I was with my oldest son, David, in Yosemite. It all hit me, hard, after all these years of such extreme defensiveness. How often does Kim Goldman wish she could call her brother and she can’t? How often does Fred Goldman imagine what Ron’s life would have been like, or how many kids he might have if he’d been allowed to live? And why? Because of O.J.?
The Goldmans are the only people I would really like to be forgiven by.
It was the last day at Rockingham. O.J. had lived in this house for almost 21 years. It had been his port in the storm and the one thing in his life that held its center, that didn’t, in his mind, let him down or abandon or betray him. The house. You remember how badly he wanted to get to Rockingham both when during the Bronco chase and when he got out of prison? “I want to go home,” he said adamantly in both cases.
Nicole had also developed an acute longing for that house, not necessarily as the house she loved the most–that would have been her condo at Bundy–but as the house where O.J.was, where life with O.J. was. She knew that to get back together with O.J. she had to get back into Rockingham. She pleaded with him to let her move back in. He was rather cold about it, refusing her each time. He was willing to start “dating” her again in that last year to see if it would work out, but he would not let her and the kids back into “his” house. I always found this relationship–between O.J. and his house–a little strange.
So the day had finally come. The house was virtually empty but for a few stray boxes, some broken lamps, things nobody wanted. All we had to do now was say good bye.
O.J. always flew the American flag in the back yard. I went out and looked at it, and felt an immense, complex sadness. We had come so close to living the American dream, actually holding it in our hands and knowing what it was. Now we were ship-wrecked, packing up and leaving, in disgrace, and also in confusion. What was it, really, exactly, that has caused our terrible downfall?
Double murder, you might say.
But what caused those double murders?
O.J. Simspon, in a rage, with a knife.
Fair enough, but how did he get there, with that knife in hand, in that dark driveway, and why, when he had climbed so high, transcended so much, only to lose it all, literally, in a few seconds in a slashing fury?
This is the mystery.
I had a camera and a video camera with me that last day at Rockingham. I documented everything. I filmed him taking down the flag for the last time. Then we walked through the house, room to room. When we got to O.J.’s office, he became very solemn. He was staring at the floor. He pointed to a part of the carpeted floor and said: “Right there…was the first place I ever made love to Nicole. Right there.”
He just stood there staring.
“O.J.,” I said, “why don’t you take part of the carpet? It’s obviously very important to you.”
“I can’t destroy the carpet Mike.”
“Why not?” I said. “This means a lot to you. We don’t have to take it out of the main floor, we can take a piece out of the closet carpet.”
I opened the door to a small closet in the office and got down on my knees with a box cutter in hand.
“I’m sure when they auction off the house they won’t notice this.”
I cut out two pieces, about 8 X 8 inches each. I gave one to him and kept one for myself, which I still have to this day.
Then we went outside. In the concrete outside, near the patio, they had carved their names “O.J. & Nicole,” and their wedding anniversary date. O.J. said, “I would hate to leave this.”
“Why don’t we take it with you I said, if it means so much to you.”
This time I didn’t have to persuade him. I got a skill saw, put a diamond blade on it, and used a Rotterdam to cut the concrete. It took a couple of hours. O.J. would come and check my progress from time to time. To the very end, I was trying to answer his losses with preservation of memories, as if that would make anything better or different. I am a very sentimental person in many ways, and in fact, so is O.J.
I finally managed to cut loose that piece of concrete–it was about 16 inches long, 6-7 inches wide, and 4 inches deep. “Here,” I said, handing it to O.J.
He took it and placed it in one of his bags. Then we did one last walk through of the house, to see if we’d forgotten anything.
When I went to see O.J. in the house he leased right after he left Rockingham, up on the hill in Alta Mura, he still had that piece of concrete and the piece of carpet. I am pretty sure he brought those two things with him wherever he moved after that.