O.J. Simpson Bronco Chase at 20: Larry King, CNN's Don Lemon and More Share Their Memories
News big shots and some THR readers answer the question: "What were you doing when O.J. took to the freeway?"
Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of the police chase seen 'round the world.
At nearly 6 p.m. L.A. time, O.J. Simpson, former professional football star-turned-actor, engaged the police in a lengthy — and slow — car chase around Los Angeles following the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a waiter, Ron Goldman.
PHOTOS Relive the O.J. Simpson Saga
The pair were killed outside her Brentwood home just after midnight on June 13, 1994. Evidence pointed to O.J. Simpson as the murderer, and he was expected to turn himself in to the LAPD on the morning of June 17. But he never showed. As a result, the LAPD issued an APB.
Hours later, his attorney Robert Kardashian (father of Kim, Kourtney, Khloe andRobert) read a rambling letter penned by Simpson that many took to be a suicide note: "First everyone understand I had nothing to do with Nicole's murder … Don't feel sorry for me. I've had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person. Thanks for making my life special. I hope I helped yours."
Early that evening, Simpson was spotted in his now-infamous white Bronco, being driven by friend Al Cowlings, who reportedly told police the athlete had a gun to his head. Networks interrupted their regular programming to breathlessly cover the slow-speed chase that ensued (NBC, in fact, continued live coverage of the NBA Finals Game 5 but in an inset broadcast Tom Brokaw's coverage of the Simpson chase). Around 95 million viewers tuned in to watch the spectacle.
Simpson hangs his head as he sits in his attorney's car on June 13, 1994, after being questioned by Los Angeles police about the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.
The chase lasted nearly an hour and a half, ending at Simpson's Brentwood home. He ultimately surrendered, was put on trial and then acquitted — a controversial verdict — after an eight-month trial. He's currently serving time in a Nevada prison following a separate 2007 arrest for armed robbery and kidnapping (33 years with a minimum of nine years without parole).
On the eve of the anniversary, The Hollywood Reporter asked many in the news business — including some who covered the event — to share their memories of that day.
Larry King, then at CNN and now at Ora.TV:
The most dramatic moment of my life on the air was that night. I knew O.J.; I knew the driver of the car, I'll never forget it. I was broadcasting in Washington at the time, and they had to get me a map of Los Angeles. Every moment was engrossing.
Don Lemon, CNN anchor:
I was a writer and assignment editor for WNYW Fox 5 in New York City. I had worked the early writing shift for our midday news program with Lyn Brown. I'll never forget it was a Friday. I was excited about getting an early start on my weekend. Some of us on the midday staff had gone to our local watering hole/restaurant for lunch and a drink. Lyn Brown, our anchor, would sometimes buy us a cocktail or two on Fridays. So when she didn't show up, we became worried. She didn't answer her cellphone. Nothing. We called the station and found out she was on standby because O.J. was to turn himself in.
A few hours later Lyn showed up. We asked her what took her so long. All she could muster was, "He didn't show up. He's missing." There was an APB out for O.J. We grabbed the check and went back to work. Lyn wasn't just on standby. She had been on the set the entire time anchoring the station's coverage until the evening anchors could get to work.
And if O.J. gone missing wasn't surreal enough, a few hours later came the Bronco chase. Unbelievable! All we could do was stare at the newsroom monitors while we simulcast the Fox Los Angeles live coverage. Little did we know that that one moment would change our lives and schedules for months, but it would [also] change news programming forever.
The station's news director, Lisa Gregorisch, suggested the station temporarily suspend all of its daytime and most of its evening programming. Her bosses agreed. We developed a program called O.J. Today. We covered the case and the trial from morning to night for months until it was over.
Not only did I witness close up as broadcast TV news morphed into cable news, but I watched lawyers and pundits blossom into stars.
Ashleigh Banfield, anchor of CNN's Legal View With Ashleigh Banfield:
I was in Canada, speaking on the phone to a news director in Florida, who was looking to potentially hire me. I was about to make the jump to an American network. I remember saying to him: "Wow … the news really seems to happen at a different pace down there!" To which he replied something along the lines of: "Yeah, well this is surprising even to us!"
Pat Harvey, who anchored KCAL Los Angeles' coverage of the chase and is now a KCBS anchor:
I remember being on the air thinking, 'This is surreal; this has to be a movie.' When we received official confirmation that it was O.J. Simpson in that white Bronco moving slowly down the interstate with police close behind, my next thought was, "How is this going to end?" It was almost paralyzing, considering the tragic events that unfolded the week before.
Members of the news media watch live television coverage of the O.J. Simpson chase on Los Angeles freeways during Game 5 of the NBA finals on June 17, 1994, at New York's Madison Square Garden.
Greta Van Susteren, host of Fox News' On the Record
I was in France with my mother and my husband celebrating my mother's birthday. I remember watching the chase live in the wee morning hours from a hotel room in Paris.
Brooke Baldwin, CNN Newsroom anchor
Oh boy. I was glued — like the rest of America — to the TV. It was summertime. I'd just gotten home from the beach for a family reunion. I was going into my sophomore year of high school. Watching O.J. with my folks in the basement on our "big" TV. Who could turn away?! For HOURS. I mean, 20 years later, ask anyone what they think of when they see a white Bronco. Answer: O.J. Simpson.
Kyra Phillips, CNN correspondent
O.J. Simpson changed the face of television and cable news. It was an extraordinary story of celebrity and murder, and the world was captivated and wanted to see and hear every detail. As a reporter, I may have followed up on a story now and then, but when O.J. Simpson's trial was broadcast live, that changed reporting forever. Never had I been on the same story, every day, from every angle for so many months. This is the story that made the non-famous, famous. Marcia Clark, Kato Kaelin, Chris Darden, Johnnie Cochran — I could go on and on.
THR also asked its readers to share their own memories on Facebook. Here are some of the best ones:
Robin Markowitz-Litfin: I remember exactly where I was. My friend and I had gone out for the evening, it was a Friday night. We frequented the same bar every Friday night, Bruno's, in Ronkonkoma, NY. The place is filled with TV screens on every wall, and every sporting event known to man was blarring. This night, however, every screen had only one image, that of a white bronco being chased by what looked like, hundreds of police cars. The crowd was so quiet, in an eerie sort of way. When OJ finally arrived at his estate, the "party" was over. Everyone was so exhausted from the ordeal, they all went home. It was a night I will not soon forget!!!
Mark Castro: I was working with Kurt Rambis on a Sony Playstation game before there was such a thing. Kurt was invited to the Jim Rome Show to do an interview about his acting career and I went with Kurt so we would get in and out during our lunch break. Jim came and apologized that he couldn't break away from this scene because it was sure to be historic. So we sat and watched with Jim and his crew until it was over. He was right it was historic.
Steven Price: I remember distinctly where I was at that moment — at a party for the Gay Games in NYC at the loft of Gay Cable Network owner Marvin Schwamm. Jeffrey and I sat on the bed in the bedroom with 42 drag queens, riveted to the TV, lol … and the Louds aside, this was THE moment Reality TV was born. the years to come would be very hard on us SC football-loving families.
George Pilgrim, actor: I was on location in Mescal AZ Filming Timemaster and I was playing Billy the Kid. We all watched it in our Directors trailer. It was crazy!!!
Tony Lopez: I was dressing up for my senior overnighter for my high school and I saw this on the news and thought the school could wait a few minutes.
Thomas Silver: Ironically it happened on the same weekend the movie Speed came out (anyone remember seeing all the police cars in it? I know someone yelled out "I see a white Bronco," to much laughter in the audience.).
Christine Persaud: I was devastated because nobody paid attention to me on my birthday
Simpson's ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman, both of whom were murdered and found dead in Los Angeles on June 12, 1994. Simpson was arrested in connection with the murder and acquitted of the crime.
Cynthia Derchak: I was working night shift as an RN. Every afternoon I would set my clock to watch
Nandanie Spahr: I was in 4th grade. Every time the news was turned on there it was.
Mike Spring: I remember that A friend and I had rented two movies to watch, one of them being the original Tron, but because we ended up watching OJ on TV, I fell asleep during the first movie. And for the next 20 years, my buddy would always make jokes about me falling asleep during Tron because of OJ. It became a longtime running joke.
Elizabeth Lampert: Was watching the Knicks game !
Police tape surrounded the Bundy Drive home of Nicole Brown Simpson after her body was discovered late Sunday, June 12, 1994.
Linda Anders Dannis: I was in the infield of Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn Mich waiting for the NASCAR race on Sunday.
Finally, a comment that's sure to make you feel old:
Lana Minassian: I was a little over a year old.
Share your own memories in the comments below.