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We are proud to celebrate 40 years!

O.J. Simpson has died at the age of 76

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former football star Orenthal James Simpson, better known as O.J., has died after a battle with cancer. He was 76 years old. His family announced the news this morning in a post on X, formerly Twitter. After his football career, Simpson starred in movies and commercials, but he gained global attention after being accused of the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. He was acquitted in that trial. Reporter Steve Futterman followed the full arc of O.J. Simpson's career, and he is with us now to tell us more about it. Good morning.

STEVE FUTTERMAN: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: His family announced Simpson's death this morning. Do we know anything more about the circumstances?

FUTTERMAN: Well, we had been told a few months ago that he was dealing with prostate cancer. I actually was tipped off around a week ago from a source who said that he was in very bad shape. I could never confirm it. So it was something that really, I guess, developed in the last few months. His last post on Twitter, X, was a few months ago, I think in February. He was a regular poster on Twitter, X. But since then he had never posted a thing, and that made me a bit suspicious about whether this report the source was telling me was true. And sure enough, it turned out to be.

MARTIN: You covered O.J. Simpson for decades. So I just want to start by asking how he first became a star.

FUTTERMAN: Well, he was a tremendous football player - went to the University of Southern California, won the Heisman Trophy. He was a charismatic figure, too. He ran the ball a bit differently than other players, and was just an acclaimed running back for USC, went to the National Football League, played for the Buffalo Bills, didn't achieve much as far as team success. It was a team that just could never get over the hump. But he achieved great success. He became the first running back to gain over 2,000 yards in the NFL, and was a Hall of Famer. I mean, he was a great football player. There was never any doubt about his football abilities.

MARTIN: So then this murder trial in 1994 - it was a global spectacle. You covered that. Just describe for people who don't remember it what it was like.

FUTTERMAN: Well, first was the discovery that he was being charged. This was in 1994, June 12, a Sunday night, Ron Goldman and his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, were - had some meeting at - she had had dinner at Ron Goldman's restaurant. She left her glasses. He brought them back. O.J. Simpson, according to the prosecution, discovered them in the house, became enraged and killed them. Now, that was the prosecution's story. O.J. Simpson claimed he never did anything like that. And that was what the trial was about - did he do it or didn't he do it? There were some memorable moments in the trial - the bloody glove that was found outside where O.J. Simpson lived. Was that him trying to return to the house? There were blood stains - were they O.J. Simpson's blood stains or not? There was a famous moment in the trial - Johnnie Cochran, his very, very good defense attorney, during closing arguments, said about the glove, if it doesn't fit, you must acquit. And the jury very quickly - this was another controversial part of the case - around four hours - it took the jury, after months and months of testimony, less than four hours to find him not guilty. And it never satisfied anyone. There were people who felt it was a proper jury verdict. There were people who felt it was the wrong verdict. And it was never anything that was completely solved. There was always this question - did he or didn't he do it? The trial didn't really solve that.

MARTIN: He hasn't been very visible in recent years. We only have a couple of seconds left. But what do you make of that? I mean, he's been kind of a - I don't want to use the word joke, but he's been, you know, in skits in "Saturday Night Live" and that kind of thing.

FUTTERMAN: Right.

MARTIN: He's sort of become a joke. How do you think we will think of him now?

FUTTERMAN: Well, I think we're always going to wonder about whether he did it or not. There was a civil trial afterwards where he was found liable. He was eventually imprisoned after a charge of kidnapping in Las Vegas, where he was trying to take memorabilia that he said belonged to him. So he did end up in in prison for around nine years. But always I think it's going to be, did he do it? Did he not do it? And I think there are still many, many people who are not convinced either way. So I think that's the lasting memory we're going to have about O.J. Simpson, one of the great whodunits of all time.

MARTIN: And also kind of a - sort of a metaphor for celebrity culture gone off the rails.

FUTTERMAN: Absolutely, absolutely.

MARTIN: That's correspondent Steve Futterman. He joined us via Skype. Steve, thank you so much.

FUTTERMAN: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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