O. J. Simpson Dies of Cancer at 76: "The Juice" and His Legacy

Published on 16 May 2024 at 10:30

     O.J. Simpson, the former 2-time unanimous All-American football running back and actor, has passed away at the age of 76 after a battle with cancer.  Born as Orenthal James Simpson in San Francisco, he won the Heisman Trophy at USC, then set records while playing professional football for the San Francisco 49ers and the Buffalo Bills.  Simpson also ventured into acting, appearing in films such as "The Klansman," "Roots," "The Cassandra Crossing," and "The Towering Inferno" while still in the NFL.  After retiring from football, Simpson pursued a career in film and television.  He starred in three "Naked Gun" movies and the comedy "Back to the Beach." In later years, O.J. was diagnosed and received chemotherapy treatment for prostate cancer, known as the most common form of cancer. 

     Prior to his successful NFL career, O. J. Simpson was a young black family man. In 1967 at the youthful age of 19, O. J. married his first wife Marguerite Whitley. Simpson played college football for the University of Southern California Trojans (USC), where he won the Heisman Trophy as a senior.  He was such an electric player on the field that childhood friend A.C. Cowlings called him “The Juice.”  He set team records for 1,415 rushing yards in 1967 and 1,709 in 1968.  At USC, he was also part of a world-record-setting 440-yard relay team.  Simpson was the first overall pick by the Buffalo Bills in the 1969 NFL/AFL draft.  During his nine seasons with the Bills, he achieved several milestones.  He was a five-time Pro Bowl selection from 1972 to 1976 and earned First-Team All-Pro honors during the same period.  O.J. led the league in rushing yards four times and became the first NFL player to rush for over 2,000 yards in a season, earning him the NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) title.  In 1973, he set a single season record for 2,003 rushing yards.  ‘The Juice’ scored 61 rushing touchdowns and contributed as a receiver with 203 catches for 2,142 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns.  It is undeniable that he was once known as the country's 'All-American Hero.' Unfortunately, although O.J. may have been at the pinnacle of his college years in sports his family life and image was about to unfold.  In 1979, after 3 children and experiencing the lifestyle of a career in professional sports, O. J. and Marguerite divorced. 

     During the 1990s, Simpson's professional success was tangled with his controversial acquittal for the murders of his former second wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend Ron Goldman.  The trial lasted approximately eleven months, from Nov 9, 1994, to Oct 3, 1995.  Later, penalizing Simpson with over $33.5 million in restitution to both victims' families in a civil suit, the trial became the most televised criminal case in American history and was referred to as "The Trail of the Century.”  O.J.'s defense team and legal counsel, known as 'the Dream Team,' consisted of 10 high-profile legal professionals, including Robert Shapiro (founder of Legal Zoom and Shoe Dazzle), the late Johnny Cochran (known as the Most Successful Black Lawyer in L.A.), and the late Robert Kardashian (father of the famous Kardashian sisters and Rob Kardashian Jr.).

     Despite OJ Simpson's acquittal, he faced further legal issues and was arrested multiple times after the trial.  Notably, in 2007, Simpson admittedly entered a hotel room with accomplices, whom he referred to as former friends, to retrieve memorabilia he claimed had been stolen from him.   On Sept 16, 2007, authorities arrested Simpson and initially held him without bail for the encounter, which officials deemed an armed robbery.  On Oct 3, 2008, exactly 13 years after his double murder acquittal, OJ Simpson was found guilty on all 12 charges related to the robbery said to have occurred on Sept 13, 2007.  Shockingly, he was sentenced to 33 years in prison with eligibility for parole in nine years.  Some attribute that harsh sentencing to the karma of the prior acquittal.  Simpson was released from prison 11 years later, Oct 1, 2017.

     While O.J.'s legacy remains complex, with legal troubles leaving a lasting impact, his athletic achievements and early success remain undeniable.   He was once one of history's most heralded rookies and the No.1 overall pick.  When the National Football League chose to acknowledge the most outstanding players from the first 75 years of the sport, O.J. Simpson was one of those players honored with the 75th Anniversary All-Time Team, alongside names like Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, Kellen Winslow, and Rosevelt 'Rosey' Brown.  O.J. was also a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.

     The entirety of O.J. Simpson's estate has yet to be determined and specific details about his burial services have not been widely reported.  However, the renowned former athlete leaves property behind in the Orenthal Simpson Revocable Living Trust.  His long-time lawyer, Malcolm LaVergne, was left in charge of his estate and planned to follow Simpson's wishes of not succumbing to any debt involving the Goldman family.  If any beneficiary wants to contest the will, they will receive $1 instead of anything substantial to discourage disputes and ensure the provisions remain intact.  O.J. "Juice" Simpson leaves behind four children.

By Maisha J. Harris


April 11, 2024 Updated May 16, 2024

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