Tragic Details About O.J. Simpson

Football hero. Movie star. Advertising tool. Accused murderer. Convicted felon. Social pariah. All those descriptions aptly fit O.J. Simpson, one of the 20th century's most polarizing figures. On April 10, 2024, Simpson's family announced that he died at age 76, with the cause of death said to be cancer.

For decades, Simpson was a larger-than-life figure, beginning on the football field. His athleticism was extraordinary, propelling him to gridiron glory in high school, and then college football, where he won the coveted Heisman Trophy. That eventually led to Simpson playing 11 seasons in the NFL. One of the sport's most famous athletes, Simpson parlayed his popularity into becoming a TV football analyst and then an actor, appearing in numerous films throughout the '70s and '80s, including "The Naked Gun" comedies.

His Hollywood career screeched to a grinding halt in 1994 when he was accused of the brutal murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. After the blockbuster "trial of the century," he was acquitted of double homicide in a still-controversial verdict. 13 years later, he was convicted of an entirely different crime and would spend nearly a decade behind bars before being paroled as a septuagenarian. Through it all, O.J. attained heights that few people have ever experienced, while also diving down to some crushing depths.

O.J. Simpson was afflicted with rickets as a child

Orenthal James Simpson was born in 1947 and grew up in San Francisco's working-class Potrero Hill district. At the age he should have learned to walk, Simpson still had not taken his first steps. His mother, Eunice Simpson, was concerned enough to take him to the hospital where she worked. After examining her son, doctors told her that a calcium deficiency during infancy led him to develop rickets, a condition that causes bones to soften and hinders them from developing properly. 

To correct the problem, young Simpson needed to wear leg braces — an expense, unfortunately, that his parents couldn't afford. As a result, they made their own; From the ages of 2 until 5, he wore those homemade leg braces to correct the problem. 

The braces did the trick. While they left him bowlegged, the braces also allowed him to heal so spectacularly that he went on to become one of the fastest sprinters in the NFL. In fact, he held a few NFL records for his amazing speed, including the most rushing yards in a single game, with his skills ultimately earning him the nickname, "The Juice."

His 2-year-old daughter died in a tragic accident

In 1967, O.J. Simpson married Marguerite Whitley. Over the course of their marriage, the couple welcomed three children, daughters Arnelle and Aaren, and son, Jason. In 1979, 2-year-old Aaren died unexpectedly when she fell into the family's swimming pool and drowned. Their marriage was already troubled, and Simpson and Whitley wound up divorcing later that same year after 12 years as spouses.

In a 2004 NBC interview with Katie Couric, Simpson touched on the loss of his daughter, insisting that he and his ex-wife refrained from talking about the tragedy they had experienced together. "I never have sat down with my ex-wife ... and discussed the drowning of our baby. I mean, I never have. You know, I don't want to discuss it," he shared. When Couric asked whether it might be cathartic or healing to confront it, Simpson said he never felt the need. "I'm — it's sad that it happened," he added. "It was a tremendous loss. We dealt with it. We moved on."

Simpson also insisted that he purposefully didn't want to hear any specific details of what happened on that day, nor his wife's whereabouts at the time. "And I don't need to know in that case, where she was at that moment that my baby fell into the pool," he said. "I've been told that the subject — don't push it. One day the subject might come up. And you should be prepared to talk about it ... When it comes up, we'll deal with it."

Simpson was reportedly estranged from his children while in prison

Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman weren't the only victims of that fateful 1994 night in Brentwood. Also impacted were the two children that O.J. Simpson and his ex-wife shared. Their daughter, Sydney, and son, Justin, were forced to grow up with the confusing, conflicted emotions of knowing that their father was accused of killing their mother — and that millions of people believed that to be true.

When O.J. was subsequently sent to prison for an unrelated armed robbery in 2008, reports emerged that his relationship with his two youngest offspring was not all that great. That assertion was made by O.J.'s friend, Tom Scotto, in 2017. According to Page Six, Scotto claimed that the former football great was completely estranged from all of his children except daughter Arnelle. "O.J.'s kids don't want him close to them," Scotto's publicist told the outlet. "Only Arnelle will talk to him."

O.J. — who, at the time, was on the verge of being paroled — countered that narrative via his attorney, Malcolm LaVergne, who insisted there was no friction between him and his kids. "They are in constant communication," LaVergne declared.

He died owing millions to the Goldman family

While the jury in his murder trial found O.J. Simpson to be not guilty, the same did not hold true when he was sued by Fred Goldman, the father of murder victim Ron Goldman. The Goldman family was triumphant in the 1997 wrongful death lawsuit, in which a jury determined Simpson was responsible for the murders and awarded the family $33.5 million in damages.

In 2022, the father sought a renewal of that judgment. The result was that Simpson owed the Goldmans considerably more than was originally awarded, with the number escalating to $96 million due to accumulated interest on the original amount (given that the family had only received about $130,000 from Simpson in the interim). At the time of his death, the amount Simpson owed to the Goldman family had ballooned to more than $114 million.

Responding to news of Simpson's death, Fred issued a statement, which read, "The only thing I have to say is that today is just a further reminder of how long we have missed my son, how long he's been gone, and the only thing that is important today are the victims."

He mourned the death of his beloved mother

If there's a single person most responsible for O.J. Simpson's success, it has to be his mother, Eunice Simpson, whose dedication to her son's athletic pursuits allowed him to flourish. The youngster's childhood became complicated when his father, Jimmy Simpson, left his family when O.J. was just 4 years old, leaving Eunice to raise their son on her own. Jimmy subsequently came out as gay and reportedly died from AIDS-related complications in the 1980s. 

When O.J. was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, he honored his mother during his speech. "You just don't know what it is to be 8 years old and all your friends think you have the best mother in the neighborhood," he said, as recounted by The Washington Post. Not surprisingly, O.J. was hit hard in 2001 when his mother was found dead of natural causes in the home that he had purchased for her.

In his eulogy for his mother, O.J. praised the woman who was both mother and father to him. "If anybody is going to heaven, I think my mother is," he told the crowd that had assembled for her memorial service, reported SFGate.

He was vilified for his book, If I Did It

In 2006, news emerged that O.J. Simpson was preparing to resurface with a media blitz surrounding his new tell-all book. This was no run-of-the-mill memoir, evident in its shocking title: "If I Did It." The book's unfathomably distasteful premise featured Simpson walking readers through the process of committing the murders, but not actually confessing to them, just hypothetically demonstrating how he would have carried them out. The backlash was immediate. Plans for the book were instantly halted, as was a corresponding television special set to air on the Fox network. Judith Regan, the famed HarperCollins editor behind the book, was summarily fired, while all 400,000 copies that were printed were reportedly destroyed.

Interestingly, the book wound up being published the following year — by the Goldman family. They won the rights to the project, as part of Simpson's still-unpaid settlement, and added their own foreward. The repositioning of the book was clear in its new subtitle, "Confessions of the Killer," while the word "If" had been reduced to microscopic size on he cover so the title appeared to read "I Did It."

"It's sending him a message," Ron Goldman's sister, Kim Goldman said during a 2007 appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (via AP). "He put hours putting together this confession about how he killed Ron and Nicole, and he worked hard thinking he was going to make millions off of it. And we snatched it right out from under him."

He lost his home to foreclosure while imprisoned

In 2007, O.J. Simpson was arrested for attempted robbery and kidnapping, after he and a few accomplices robbed some sports memorabilia dealers at gunpoint. He was placed on trial and convicted on 12 counts, a serious list that included such felonies as kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, and armed robbery. He was subsequently sentenced to a whopping 33 years in prison but would be eligible for parole in nine.

While serving his time, O.J. Simpson's financial situation grew grim. The former NFL star was previously able to trade in on his celebrity status via the sports memorabilia market, autographing footballs, and the like, there were few opportunities for him to generate income from behind bars. It all came to a head in 2012 when his Miami, Florida home entered foreclosure, as no mortgage payments had been made since 2010, leaving him owing over $700,000 in total. In addition, he had four years' worth of unpaid taxes. As a result, the over 4,000-square-foot home was sold at auction and later demolished in 2022. 

Before the Florida foreclosure, the National Enquirer (via the Daily Mail) claimed in 2012 that Simpson was angry at his daughter, Arnelle, for not managing to keep current on his $3,133-per-month mortgage payments. Their source claimed she blew through his NFL pension of $25,000 per month on her lavish lifestyle.

Simpson went on a hunger strike in prison

Watching powerlessly while the bank took his home while locked up in prison proved to be a bitter pill to swallow for O.J. Simpson. Or at least that was the claim in another story from the National Enquirer (via UPI). In the 2014 report, a source alleged Simpson had grown so despondent that he embarked on a hunger strike.

"O.J. is done," the source stated, alleging his rapid weight loss was frightening the few friends he had left. "He just won't eat, and you can tell by his voice that he just wants to die."

However, former correctional officer Jeffery Felix offered a vastly different recollection of Simpson's prison experience. "O.J. Simpson is not suffering in prison. He's eating well. He's exercising well. He's got a flat-screen TV," Felix told ABC News. Just three years after his supposed hunger strike, Simpson was paroled. He was finally released from Nevada's Lovelock Correctional Center in October 2017.

He worried about brain damage from his football years

In 2018, O.J. Simpson was a free man — on parole, but at least no longer behind bars. But he had something new to worry about, telling The Buffalo News that he had become distressed that he might have damaged his brain during his storied football career. "I get concerned," Simpson admitted, sharing his fears that he might have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition that has been found among former professional football players.

"I do recognize that it probably affects you in short-term memory more than long-term," he said, adding that he occasionally found himself struggling mentally. "I know with me, I have days I can't find words," he explained. "I literally cannot find words or the name of somebody I know. That gets a little scary. Those days happen when I'm tired."

Two years before Simpson revealed his self-diagnosis, an actual doctor weighed in with his opinion, stating that he was pretty much certain that Simpson did have CTE. "I would bet my medical license on it," Dr. Bennet Omalu — the physician who first linked CTE to the NFL, and was famously portrayed by Will Smith in the film "Concussion" — told ABC News.

Simpson feared he would become a casualty of COVID-19

In 2021, O.J. Simpson sat down with The Athletic for an extensive interview, in which he revealed that he endured a tough battle with COVID-19 the previous year. According to Simpson, his condition had been dire. "When I had COVID, I almost couldn't get out of bed," Simpson said. "I made it to my balcony, trying to breathe. I couldn't catch my breath."

In fact, he wasn't certain he would emerge alive, leading him to contact his children to discuss funeral arrangements and the like. "I felt vulnerable and for the first time thought I might be near the end. Since that day, I have wondered. Do I want to be buried? Do I want to be cremated? Years ago, I would have left it up to Nicole because I know she would have done the right thing," he added.

There was at least one person who regretted that Simpson had dodged a visit from the Grim Reaper. "Out of all the people who've passed away from COVID, what a shame he wasn't one of them," Fred Goldman told the New York Daily News. Goldman made it pretty clear that he was nowhere near forgiving the man he continued to blame for the murder of his son. "I certainly don't think he deserves any sympathy," Goldman added. "He's alive, he's free. He can do anything he wants. Everything my son can't do."

His final years were filled with illness and disgrace

In 2019, O.J. Simpson ventured back into the spotlight by launching his own X, formerly known as Twitter, account. In the frequent videos he posted, Simpson appeared genial and nonplussed, having long since moved on from his murder trial. However, nearly everyone else hadn't; more often than not, the word "disgraced" was used by news organizations when reporting on him.

In 2023, Simpson shared a health update. "In recent years — really recent years — I unfortunately caught cancer, and so I had to do the whole chemo thing," he said in a video that he posted on X. In February 2024, he confirmed he was battling prostate cancer; in the video he posted on X, he denied reports that he was in hospice care. In his final post, shared just a few days later, he expressed optimism that he would be back on the golf course soon. "My health is good," he said, adding, "Obviously I'm dealing with some issues, but, hey, I think I'm just about over it." He died two months later.

In the aforementioned interview with The Athletic, Simpson was asked how he thought his obituary would read. "Wow. I hope it starts out with football. I know they're going to add the other stuff," he said, with that "stuff" referring to his infamous Los Angeles murder trial. "The LA thing, unfortunately, some people wrongfully believe something, but I moved on. I still think I'm a good guy."