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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Part 2 of ESPN’s O.J.: Made in America.]
First of all, it’s incredible that we’re now a full four hours into O.J.: Made in America, with an avalanche of fascinating details about O.J. Simpson’s life — and we haven’t even gotten to the murders yet. Director Ezra Edelman continues to do an amazing job of weaving together Simpson’s life story with the racial and cultural atmosphere surrounding him, laying the groundwork for the three-ring media circus to come.
Part 2 takes viewers from O.J.’s retirement from pro=football in 1979 to his final split from wife Nicole Brown just before she and Ronald Goldman were killed in 1994. Let’s take a closer look at the five most surprising takeaways from Part 2:
1. The Rodney King case wasn’t the only thing fueling L.A.’s racial strife.
Like FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson, Made in America points to the Rodney King beating and the acquittal of the cops responsible as a flashpoint for the divide between the LAPD and the city’s black community. But there were two other major events that fed that fire, too: the 1979 police shooting of Eula Love on her own front lawn, and the 1991 killing of teen Latasha Harlins by a Korean grocer. In both cases, black residents were shot dead, and their killers got off practically scot-free. So by the time the Rodney King cops were found not guilty, tensions were ready to boil over. Journalist Sylvester Monroe remembers, “Every time they said ‘not guilty,’ what I heard was, ‘F–k n—-rs’… all I felt was, I just wanted to smack somebody white.”
2. O.J. faced a serious personal tragedy.
Simpson’s marriage to first wife Marguerite ended in 1979, and five months after the divorce, Simpson’s nearly two-year-old daughter Aaren drowned in the family’s swimming pool. That kind of tragedy could shake anyone to their core — a parent losing their child is “the single most horrible thing in the world,” director Peter Hyams says — but Simpson never grieved in public. “I don’t know how much it changed me,” Simpson told interviewer Roy Firestone when asked about Aaren’s death. “I always try to live my life to the fullest.”
3. The LAPD were all buddy-buddy with O.J.
A lot of O.J. defenders insisted that the LAPD were out to frame Simpson as a prominent black man in the community (see above). But it’s clear many of the local police were more in awe of the football great than anything. LAPD officer Ron Shipp recalls bringing his fellow cops to O.J.’s Brentwood home and watching their faces light up when The Juice answered the door: “You could see them melt like little kids.” And even when O.J. faced serious domestic violence charges (more on that in a bit), he called Shipp personally to plead his side of the case.
4. When O.J. couldn’t win at golf, he cheated.
O.J.’s intense competitive streak was well-known, even after retirement. He took up golf with his rich white businessman buddies — Hertz CEO Frank Olson remembers, “They loved him, because he just fit in” — but he wasn’t as gifted on the links as he was on the gridiron. Friends remember O.J. teeing off once and then claiming a ball down the fairway was his… even though it was sitting on a tee. In fact, O.J. cheated so much, his fellow golfers hired a caddy (who they dubbed “The Juice Patrol”) to follow him around and make sure he played by the rules. But they didn’t hold it against Simpson, friend Thomas C. McCollum III says: “He had that amazing charm that you’d somehow let him get away with certain things.”
5. Nicole had many glimpses of O.J.’s violent side.
Part 1 revealed that O.J. was “a little forceful” with Nicole on their very first date; Part 2 details the many violent episodes that followed, including at least three calls to 911 from Nicole. But O.J. always managed to escape serious punishment. After an ugly 1989 incident where a bruised Nicole told police she feared for her life (and O.J. escaped arrest by fleeing the scene in his Bentley), O.J. only had to serve community service… by organizing a celebrity golf tournament. After he and Nicole split, O.J. was enraged by rumors she was sleeping with other men, including his pal Marcus Allen, and obsessed with controlling her every move. Nicole’s friend Robin Greer remembers O.J. insisting on only a three-month lease for Nicole’s post-split apartment, since he was convinced she’d come back. Nicole even warned a boyfriend, “Don’t ever be left alone with him… because you don’t know what he’s capable of.”
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