NEWSMAKER OF THE YEAR
O.J. SIMPSON STILL LOVES TO PLAY GOLF, FLASH THAT SMILE AND SIGN AUTOGRAPHS. BUT AFTER AN EIGHT-MONTH- LONG MURDER CASE THAT BECAME THE NATION" SOAP OPERA, HE´S FOREVER CHANGED IN OUR MINDS. AND WE´VE CHANGED, TOO. BY LARRY REIBSTEIN
TRIAL AND DENIAL
WEEKS AFTER HE WAS ACQUITTED, YOU looked at the picture of O. J. Simpson sitting in a golf cart, smiling, holding up his hands, one covered by a glove. If you were generous, you tried to find in that photo the O. J. Of old: football star, smiling sportscaster, all-round nice guy. But his smile looked odd, his hand motion menacing, his persona artificial. You wouldn´t, or couldn´t, allow yourself to see O.J. the old way- and maybe you never would.
The Juice had been permanently morphed. Immediately alter the verdict, Simpson, now a cause for blacks, returned to his home in Brentwood, a neighborhood of white and affluent people who thought him guilty as sin and wanted nothing to do with him. His former sponsor, agent and country club all distanced themselves, too.
Simpson, a man without a community, seemed in a state of denial, as if he could slip back into his old life seamlessly.
That wasn´t to be. And it wasn´t to be for many of us, either. Every part of American culture that had come in contact with the O.J. phenomenon had somehow been twisted or distorted by the experience. Would the races view each other with ever - wider suspicion? Would the justice system fall prey to Johnnie Cochran wanna - bes? Would the media reach further into wild speculation? Would the cult of celebrity enlarge?
The Simpson matter, as Judge Lance Ito so daintily called it every morning, was first and foremost a tragedy. Two people-Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Gold - man - were brutally murdered. But from the day it started, the trial was an out-of- control spectacle and became, easily, the most-talked-about topic in 1995. Filled with elements of sex, celebrity, race and wealth, the trial was a soap opera filled with outrageous characters. Who could possibly in-vent Kato, Fuhrman, Fung, Ito or Cochran?
The first task that faced prosecutors Marcia Clark and Chris Darden was to try to cut Simpson the icon down to mortal size.
Good luck. This jury wasn´t allowing any-one to mess with O.J.´s celebrity reputation.
"This was a murder trial, not domestic abuse," juror Brenda Moran said dismissively. But what trumped everything was racism, and the defense´s willingness to exploit it. how exquisitely perfect for Simpson when it turned out that Mark Fuhrman was a racist.
Afterward, the players did what all red-blooded Americans do in big-media stories: call their agents. Clark and Darden, who slipped away together on vacation, prompting the inevitable gossip, were negotiating book deals. (Clark´s agent was reportedly trying to get $ 12 mil-lion for two books, while Darden was getting $ 1.3 million for one) So were a half dozen of the jurors.
Some, hip to the notion of cashing in on their 15 minutes, had kept journals during the trial, against Ito´s orders. The post-trial activity that best captured the bizarreness was claimed by Tracy Hampton, the juror who vas dismissed in May after telling Ito, "I can´t take it anymore!" Last month, recovered from sequestrion, she posed for a Playboy spread.
Simpson began a run for approbation but stumbled quickly. He arranged an interview with NBC but withdrew when he realized his chattiness could hurt him in the civil suits filed by the Brown and Gold- man families. Instead he called The New York Times, only to put foot squarely in mouth. He suggested rather shockingly that he canceled the interview because NBC anchor Tom Brokaw had been "sharpening knives" in preparation. Insisting his legal bills hadn´t left him broke, he said, "I still have my Ferrari; I still have my Bentley". And if he was looking for public approval, he had an odd way of doing it. On his daughter Sydney´s 10th birthday he was in Florida golfing and catching movies with girlfriend Paula Barbieri (among them "Jade" and "Seven," stories of murder and mayhem). The families of Nicole and Goldman may find a measure of revenge in the wrongful-death suits against Simpson. The suits will dog him for many months, and could cost him millions if he loses.
The publicity surely won´t help his job prospects. When Simpson goes out in public these days, he sees a mixed bag: he is greeted and cheered by some, whites included, a gauge of celebrity´s durability. But he also confronts jeers and signs proclaiming him a murderer. To a man who went through life hearing constant applause, that´s got to be hard. Given the alternative, it could be worse.
If you could have any lawyer from the O.J. Simpson trial represent
You in a criminal case, Who would you choose?
Johnnie Cochran 29%
Marcia Clark 22%
Robert Shapiro 17%
F. Lee Bailey 12%
Christopher Darden 10%
Barry Scheck 4%
Touchdown: O.J. was all smiles at home after the verdict-but he still has to get past lawyers for the Browns and the Goldmans.