The World According to Zoey Tur: An Interview With the Breakout Star of 'O.J.: Made in America'
The trans helicopter pilot who captured one of the most shocking moments in the O.J. Simpson case on video holds nothing back as she weighs in on "bigoted, fascist" Donald Trump, "poor soul" Caitlyn Jenner and her NBC News-star daughter, Katy Tur, who's shunned her for years: "It’s not that she’s transphobic. It’s that her hero father has become this."
If there is a single breakout star to emerge from O.J.: Made in America, ESPN's riveting five-part documentary about sports star-turned-murder suspect O.J. Simpson, it has to be Zoey Tur. The witty and wise interview subject was the helicopter pilot responsible for two of the most iconic pieces of footage in U.S. history: the vicious beating of a white trucker by a group of gang members that fueled the 1992 Los Angeles riots and, two years later, the slow-moving white Ford Bronco chase that ended in the driveway of Simpson's Brentwood estate.
An L.A. native with a killer instinct for breaking news, Tur, 56, was a divorced parent of two — one of whom grew up to be NBC News' Katy Tur, currently embedded with the Trump campaign — who, up until May 2013, went by the name Bob Tur. It was then, however, that Tur began hormone treatment to become a woman. She has since undergone full gender-confirmation surgery ("Friggen awesome," she says) and is just months away from completing her transformation.
Tur was hired briefly by Inside Edition in 2015, where she covered Harrison Ford's small-plane crash at a Santa Monica golf course. But following a heated showdown with then-Breitbart Media writer Ben Shapiro on HLN's Dr. Drew in July of that year — after Shapiro baited her by referring to her as "sir," Tur responded by placing a hand on his neck and threatening, "You'll cut that out now or you'll go home in an ambulance" — she was let go from the program after just three episodes. She has since appeared infrequently on CNN and elsewhere to provide insights (usually, to her frustration) on primarily transgender topics.
The Hollywood Reporter recently sat down with Tur at a diner near her home in the San Fernando Valley. Sporting a black cowboy hat and pink tank-top reading "UNF— THE WORLD," Tur fed spoonfuls of chili to her Cairn terrier, Leica, as she unleashed her singular point of view on everything from the "mentally ill" Donald Trump to "poor soul" Caitlyn Jenner to her estranged relationship with her media-star daughter.
What kind of reactions have you been getting since the documentary aired?
The interview was shot two years ago. It was a time in my life where I was just totally open about everything and I was just done lying and living in the shadows or in a closet. I didn't think it would go over very well, but the public has reacted in a very positive way. If you look at all the reviews, they mention me specifically. I'm getting stopped on the street almost exclusively by black men who want selfies and to give me their phone numbers, which I like.
Why do you think that is?
Of all the stories I've covered, this has really struck a chord with people. It polarized a city. And to have a white person, especially a former, recovering white male actually say the things that black people said to each other privately for so many years, it's kind of refreshing.
Your footage of the riots and the Bronco chase serve as the linchpins of this very complex story, which is as much about American race relations as it is about the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.
You had to really understand what Los Angeles was at that time. I know so much about Los Angeles. I grew up here, I was born here, I loved it and I reported on it. I really got an amazing view, almost like a God's eye view of what was happening in the city. The spark of the worst rioting in modern U.S. history was the attack of [trucker] Reginald Denny at Florence and Normandie. I predicted it. I knew the location where it was going to happen almost to the hour. And then came the O.J. Simpson chase, and the entire world was now looking for O.J. Simpson. Every reporter in Los Angeles; every cop, federal, state, local; the public. And I found him down in Orange County, 22 minutes ahead of any of my competitors.
What led you to your job as a helicopter news pilot?
I love breaking news. And I was always trying to create the new, the next thing in television news. So I was the first to do overnight news. There was a time at night where from 10 o'clock to about 6 or 7 in the morning there was no news coverage in Los Angeles. There weren't reporters on the streets. And I thought that was crazy. This is a city that operates 24 hours a day. So, I went out and started covering overnight news. In fact, Nightcrawler is based on me, according to the director and the film's producer. [Director Dan Gilroy previously has said he drew inspiration from 1930s crime photographs.]
How did you go from a street reporter to an air reporter?
In covering breaking news there's no better way than using a helicopter. And during the daylight hours with traffic, these freeways are clogged arteries. So a helicopter was a natural progression. So I went out with my own money and at 22 years old I talked them into getting me credit for a helicopter. The rest is history.
Was this a one-man operation?
I had a camera operator as well, who was my wife Marika. So I turned her into a news cameraperson. Here's an artist who has a degree in philosophy at UCLA, who's accepted at UCLA Law, who's now holding a camera over brushfires. She loved it because it was so exciting.
Marika is the mother of your children?
The mother of my children.
One of your two children, Katy Tur, grew up to be a famous TV reporter.
Yes. My daughter is the reporter following Trump for NBC News. And they deserve each other. Katy has a unique sense of history because growing up we loved to watch channels that dealt with war. I took Katy to concentration camps. I took her to the headquarters of the Gestapo because I wanted her to have a real sense of history.
Is the family Jewish?
We're Jewish in culture, but not really observant. But I wanted her to get that education because I always believed this country would one day be in open civil war. Especially living through the L.A. riots and the O.J. Simpson trial, you could see how easily it could happen. There's a course taught about me, you know. It's called "Softwar" and it's about using information to destabilize populations. [Taught by Chuck DeCaro at the National Defense University, the course examines Tur's footage, among other media.] I used to believe that people thought it would only apply to the Third World, the Arab Spring. No: I destabilized the second-largest city in the greatest country on Earth with my reporting on Florence and Normandie. That cost a billion dollars and led to 55 deaths. My news reporting saved a lot of lives.
Do you still believe the U.S. could have another civil war?
I think we have a very fragile truce going on in this country. Now that's all changed with Donald Trump. He's a fascist. He's mentally ill. Look up DSM-5 301.7. It fits him to a tee: aggressive personality disorder. But he has said things that resonate with people. The Trump effect: Let's have people openly disparage and condemn others and say the most racist, bigoted things in public. So my daughter is covering the Trump campaign. And he says, at one of his Nuremberg rallies, the "media scum. They're scum. There's one of them back there. Little Katy Tur, a third-rate reporter."
And then it got ugly, if I recall.
The crowd turns on her. They start spitting at her. They're throwing things at her. The Secret Service is so concerned that they provide her protection. They go to her. They follow her to her hotel room. They're watching over her because they cannot allow a 5‑foot‑4‑inch blond reporter to be injured or killed by these crazy people. They have a talk with the campaign. Trump doesn't care. That is the Trump effect.
[Katy Tur disputes the vast majority of this account, as well as the characterization in this interview about her relationship with her father.]
What advice have you given her on the campaign trail?
My daughter doesn't talk to me anymore. For years now.
Has she told you why?
It's not that she's transphobic. It's that her hero father has become this. And it's the fear of not fitting in. It's the pressure of being on network television. It's the conservatism that she's forced to endure.
When was the last time you reached out to her?
The last time we talked was a couple years ago when I nearly died. I was on a hike in Malibu and had a heart attack three miles up the canyon. My dog saved my life. My phone died. It was pitch black. A windless night that night right before Halloween. I spent three days in the hospital. I spent three days at UCLA Medical Center.
And Katy came to your bedside?
She didn't come to see me, but she did call me. I don't really remember the conversation because I was on morphine and in intensive care.
Does she speak to her mother?
She's never explained why she doesn't want to communicate?
No. She's 32 years old. Her reaction is not unusual, and you have to understand it. You have to appreciate that her image of me has been torn apart. I was a big influence in her life: Why she went into journalism, how she got her first job. Everything else she did on her own. And I'm wildly, wildly impressed with her and I think she's an amazing reporter. But she's a human being and she's weak. I'm told by many that she'll come around. But it's been three years.
How did she find out about your transition?
I told her. I told her before I started on hormones. I was in Orlando working on a documentary about George Zimmerman's defense, but it fell apart because Zimmerman — who is completely insane and a diagnosed autistic, by the way — started demanding big money. I'm sitting in a hotel room and I'm just like, [telling myself] it's either suicide or something. And I sit there and I start confronting my own transphobia. You know, my own self‑hate. And I start watching transition videos on YouTube. And I'm so moved by what I see that on that flight back from Orlando to Los Angeles, I wrote each of my children and my ex‑girlfriend, Dawn, very personal letters about why I was doing what I was going do. There's no coming back from that. And I got down on the ground and my phone started lighting up. It was my son. And his reaction was, "Well, if it's going make you happy, I'm happy."
That's what you want to hear.
Right. He later came out to me himself, he's bisexual. Now, was he happy about it? I don't think so. But he saw the torment that I had gone through. But my daughter did not like it for a moment at all.
Neither saw it coming?
No. They knew I was bisexual. That was acceptable. The transgender stuff, no. No, that crossed the line.
Speaking of Orlando, what your gut response to the shooting at Pulse nightclub?
My first reaction was I wasn't surprised that it was a gay club. I knew that had to be coming. I was shocked by the numbers. That was shocking. These people will not die in vain because they will do more for LGBT acceptance and also help turn the tide against Donald Trump. It's the Donald Trumps and the Pat Robertsons and the Bill O'Reillys and the Megyn Kellys and the Sean Hannitys that have created a toxic environment where if you grow up a Muslim, black, Hispanic, gay, you hate yourself because everywhere you seem to turn you are just being disparaged. "It's fags that are destroying the country. And God forbid those trannies should be using restrooms."
Has the issue of bathrooms been a problem for you personally?
No. But nevertheless I'm being threatened with physical violence and death by not just the public, but by elected officials. By the sheriffs of some towns. They're talking about openly shooting people like me because I want to use a bathroom. Even though you can't find a single instance of an actual transgender or transsexual ever committing a violent act against somebody in a bathroom.
Photo by Seth Abramovitch
How have you been embraced by Hollywood's LBGT activists?
I'm not loved by GLAAD or by HRC. I'm not going to be a spokesman for those groups, which are based on fundraising. For me it wasn't about being political. But I got pushed into the spotlight with the simple act of trying to explain my brain anomaly on Dr. Drew. "We don't do Jerry Springer," they promised. But Dr. Drew's producer is Jerry Springer's producer. And they seat me next to Ben Shapiro — a Harvard-educated fascist fool who used me for political gain and readership gain and said on the air, "What are your genetics, sir?" And I stood up for myself. That was really important because if I were seen as a victim and I allowed myself to be a victim, I'd be dead by now. So, I grabbed that little bastard by the neck. He was shaking. And I told him he was a small, self‑hating man. And then he filed a police report against me. But to the credit of our city attorney, Mike Feuer, they realized that it was a stunt on his part. They were very humane and judicious in their determination that no crime had been committed.
Did that affect your career?
I lost my job at Inside Edition because of the Ben Shapiro incident, because they didn't like the fundamentalist and ultra-orthodox hate mail. I stood up to a religious bully and instead of standing up for me, Inside Edition and [its studio] CBS threw me away. If only someone would refer to me now as something other than "Zoey Tur, transgender reporter." I used to be an authority on terrorism, on military issues and aviation. I have an amazing track record on finding downed aircraft that nobody can find. Now I'm the "bathroom reporter."
Have you found it difficult to date as a transgender woman?
I was in the most wonderful lesbian relationship for months until her father died. And she couldn't send me to the funeral. I couldn't go because she didn't want to explain who I was. And I had to break up with her afterward because I can't go back to the closet.
Do you identify as a lesbian?
I've been a lesbian and I've been gay, bisexual and transgender. I date guys, you know, and they have to be strong guys because they have to be willing to put up with the teasing and the threats and the insults of men that are far weaker.
What do you make of Caitlyn Jenner's journey and specifically her conservative politics?
This is Stockholm syndrome. It's really natural human behavior with people that have experienced this white male privilege. She experienced the best of it for an entire lifetime. Now that she's trans, she in the trenches with the rest of us. So, what does she do? She's a Republican. She says the most insensitive, mean-spirited stuff. She can insulate herself with money, inoculate herself from what many of us go through: suicide, homelessness, not being able to find work.
Caitlyn is nothing more than a product. That is not a real human being. You will eventually see a real human being because the stressors associated with the transition will get to her and she will eventually see the light. You want to have a real show? Put me on with Caitlyn Jenner and you'll have a real show that gets huge ratings because there has to be some truth to it. Not a bunch of paid sycophants. Those are all GLAAD board members that travel with her, all bought and paid for. They line their pockets at the expense of transgender people everywhere.
That's the second jab you've thrown at GLAAD.
GLAAD's only purpose is fundraising, to throw fabulous parties and hobnob with Hollywood stars. It's not about the person on the street who is bullying them. It's about them and it's always been about them, and it's always been about them and their nonsensical approach to transgender rights. That's why it's a failed strategy. They're preaching to the choir. It's why I don't want to live in West Hollywood. I fight for mainstream. So, I confront people here in Toluca Lake, which is about as Republican as it gets.
Do you see any parallels between Jenner and Simpson's stories?
There are similarities. But O.J. Simpson is a sociopath; Caitlyn Jenner isn't. Caitlyn Jenner is a poor soul who spent a life tormented fighting her demons. Imagine: Your whole life is Bruce Jenner, being this hero. And he made a fortune with public appearances thanks to his ex-wife's help. She made him and she used his name. She created the brand. O.J. Simpson was a brand, too. He transcended race because he was packaged really well. There was a secret side that if you lived in Brentwood or you knew the police or you knew O.J., you knew O.J. to be a sociopath and a sex addict. He had no problem trying to seduce your wife if she was blond and white. O.J. Simpson was a spousal abuser. He beat his wife on a regular basis. He repeatedly tried to kill her.
What's your interpretation of what happened that night in Brentwood?
The murder? O.J. Simpson is in financial trouble. He's losing his Hertz deal. His savings are starting to come down and he's having to pay spousal support for those two kids. It's costing him. Ask any divorced man paying alimony and they'll say it's spousal abuse, it's they can't support themselves. And how many of those people would openly say, "It would be better if she just went away." O.J. acted on it. He set up this plan in motion. It was premeditated
And Ron Goldman was a complication?
That's collateral damage. Collateral damage. That's how a sociopath thinks. You know who else has killed — but for all the right reasons — was Robert Blake. There's a difference: Robert Blake was protecting his child from [wife Bonnie Lee Bakely], a sociopath that was going to destroy that child's life. And the jury then came down with the right verdict. But Robert Blake did it.
While we're at it what's your take on Phil Spector?
Phil loved his guns …
He couldn't make the system work to his advantage.
At the end of the day it was easy to convict him because he didn't look like the jury. O.J. Simpson was the all-black community getting even with the LAPD. They saw him as one of their own. Phil Spector looked like a freak. It's easy to convict a freak. But, you know, if you're a lily-white male college student it's perfectly acceptable to rape a woman.
Will O.J. ever admit to the murders?
Sure, when it's in his financial interest. I mean come on, he wrote a book called, you know, If I Did It. And then he loses the rights to it and it goes to Mr. Goldman. And Mr. Goldman retitles the book I Did It. That's a true story.
Have you and O.J. ever crossed paths?
There was a restaurant at Santa Monica Airport called DC3. This is during the Goldmans' civil case against him. So me and my ex-wife are eating there and O.J.'s defense lawyers suddenly walk in. And I go, Well, why aren't they with O.J.? Well, they take a seat at a table. And then, sure enough, a few minutes later, O.J. slips in. The waitress comes over to my table and she's crying. She says, "It's O.J. Simpson. I cannot serve him. He's disgusting. I will not do it." I tell Marika, "We've got to get the camera."
Later we're downstairs just as O.J. comes out with his lawyers. And I said, "Mr. Simpson, what did it feel like — slipping that knife into your ex‑wife?" His lawyers looked at me with pure hatred, like, "How dare you?" But O.J. just looked at me and smiled and started laughing. The hair on the back of my head and neck stood straight up.