This spring the hugely popular show American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson premiered depicting the “murder trial of the century” against O.J. Simpson for the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. The trial was over 20 years ago and is the most famous murder trial ever. The TV show created new interest in the trial and the Simpson family. The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case: The Untold Story highlights information about O.J. and Nicole that helps the viewer understand who they were through the use of interviews, audio, and video, and personal letters.
Lawrence Schiller, author and close friend to Robert Kardashian, and also a producer of this film was able to tell the compelling story of O.J. Simpson from the mouth of O.J. himself. The secret tapes are audio recordings O.J. recorded right before the Bronco chase and the deposition he was required to make for his civil trial. At the time of Ron’s and Nicole’s deaths O.J. had crafted the perfect image of himself in the public. It seemed that everyone loved him – but not many knew him.
O.J. was a man who wanted and needed to be famous. He was a high school star, won a Heisman trophy in college, joined the NFL and received multiple endorsements, became a broadcaster, and had an acting career. He was one of the biggest stars in the world. He craved attention. His drive came not from money, but his need to be known and liked. He wanted to be recognized.
“When I walk down the street I need people to know me.”
He also needed to be in control at all times: from his admitted fistfight with his son to “get his son straight” to a casual game of poker where no one was allowed to leave until he gave permission, this type of attitude lends to the problems in O.J. and Nicole’s marriage and what could have led to her death.
O.J. and Nicole’s relationship started tragic and violent and seemed to end that way as well. O.J. met Nicole when she was 18 and he was 30. On their first date, Nicole came home with ripped jeans saying that O.J. was “a little forceful. I think I like this guy.” Five days later, O.J. bought Nicole an apartment and a brand new car. When she was 19, he hit her for the first time and bought her a Porsche. Their relationship was also plagued with constant infidelity, multiple 911 calls for help, and physical violence.
Most of the people featured in this documentary knew Nicole was being abused, but didn’t believe that O.J. would kill her – this includes A.C. Cowling, Robin Greer, and Ron Shipp who was a former police officer in the LAPD. Even after Nicole and O.J. divorced, O.J. still needed to control her and he constantly intimidated her boyfriends, followed her home, and watched her from her yard at night. Six weeks before her murder, Nicole and O.J. tried to patch up their marriage by going on a trip to Cabo San Lucas which didn’t work out.
She knew he was going to kill her and predicted her death. The last time she was seen alive, she publicly shunned O.J. at their child’s dance recital. She was dead a few hours later.
In court, it was clear that O.J. was in charge. He may have had the “dream team” but they did nothing without his approval, down to not allowing them to disagree with the judge on decisions made. He was engaged in the process. He knew when to nod in agreement, shake his head in disagreement, and if necessary, use his acting skills to benefit him – case in point: the bloody gloves debacle. He made sure to show the jury that the gloves that were supposed to be his were not fitting his hands despite the fact that he had on plastic gloves. He didn’t put the gloves on properly and he stopped taking his arthritis medicine the month before. He knew how to communicate with the jury without saying a word.
Even though he was acquitted, O.J. was still angry that he had to prove he was not guilty. He saw himself as the victim. He lacked empathy for anyone other than himself.
“I hear Goldman (referring to Fred Goldman the father of Ron Goldman), who I have a lot of compassion for, I know how he feels. I lost more than he lost. I lost someone who I loved just as much as he loved and I lost my life. I’m the only person who lost something financially. Me and the tax payers of the state. I don’t see anybody trying to pay the tax payers or me back.”
O.J. made comments that he was the battered spouse, that Nicole was his physical match in their fights, and that he planned to travel to speak to women’s groups about it.
In the end, O.J. was caught because he thought he knew better than anyone else. He was selling his memorabilia for cash to avoid paying the Goldman’s any money in the civil case they won. He got caught while trying to steal back items stolen from him, was convicted of armed robbery, and sentenced to 15 – 33 years.
The People v. O.J. Simpson was really well done with one caveat: O.J. Simpson. Cuba Gooding’s performance while well-acted, portrayed O.J. as whiny and petulant. He didn’t represent him physically, but the bigger problem was that he didn’t feel like O.J. Yes, they used a moment or two to show his anger, but what was missing was his need for control. I remembered O.J. as a cocky and condescending man, who also came off as charming and likable. The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case: The Untold Story showed multiple sides of his personality – not just the image that he wanted you to see or the emotional man you watched on American Crime Story.