“Me and Marcus Allen went over to see Nicole / When we heard a knock at the door, must of been Ron Gold / Jumped behind the door, put the orgy on hold / Killed ’em both and smeared blood in a white Bronco / My mind won’t work if my spine don’t jerk”
– “Role Model,” Eminem
The crime of the century in 1994 stoked the pop-culture muse. O.J. Simpson and, by proxy, murder victims Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, became fodder for both creativity and exploitation, for better or worse.
From the infamous chase of O.J.’s Bronco five days after the bodies were discovered all the way to the spate of television shows in 2016 reexamining the case, the famous homicides, the trial exonerating O.J., and the ponderous fallout have provided for books, broadcast, and tunes awash with O.J. references.
No mode of creative expression was affected more prolifically than music, in which rappers and rockers dropped the case in rhyme, some gleeful and some scolding. For the most literal, check Detroit’s Guilty Simpson, a hip-hop artist who offers “O.J. Simpson” remixes of his songs.
Filed under name-dropping, Tupac Shakur couldn’t wait – “Picture me Rollin’ “ from the album All Eyez on Me, includes the line, “Picture me rollin’ n****, legit, Free like O.J. all day, You can’t stop me,” which was recorded in October 1995 – the same month O.J. was acquitted.
Even U2 weaved an O.J. reference into “The Playboy Mansion” from the 1997 release Pop: “If O.J. is more than a drink / And a Big Mac bigger than you think.”
Go to Amazon.com, type in “O.J. Simpson” in the book sections and you get 591 hits. Most of them relate to the murder and court cases, both civil and criminal, skipping over the pre-1994 days of O.J. as a football icon. Do the same search for Charles Manson and you get only 18 hits. The Menendez Brothers yield 20 results. Even more recent cases don’t have the O.J. jam. Casey Anthony delivers just 222 hits, less than half of O.J.’s. Today’s true crime — from the books coming out on historical cases on presses both small and large (let’s face it, the smaller guys are already out-thinking the corporate publishers and kicking out more titles) – has its roots in the O.J. case, which gave readers an unflinching look at murder in all its gory details, from crime-scene processing to gavel-to-gavel drama.Courtroom intrigue drove the Simpson debacle, turning an everyday prosecutor like Marcia Clark into a millionaire, making O.J. house guest Kato Kaelin into a celebrity, and providing the nascent Court TV channel with hundreds of thousands of TV fans. The network broadcast the Menendez brothers’ trial in 1993, and the O.J. case sent the network to the stars. Today, we have the Justice Network, which features hours of court TV, and of course Investigation Discovery, which provides nonstop true-crime documentary content.
The case provided punch lines, skits, and impersonations, from Jackie Chiles, the overamped plaintiff’s lawyer taking a swipe at Johnnie Cochran on Seinfeld to Saturday Night Live, where Tim Meadows portrayed the slick, smiling O.J. “History has shown us on more than one occasion that if you love something, it is okay to kill it,” Meadows-as-O.J. said in a 1998 skit as part of an “exclusive” Weekend Update interview.
The specific willingness of the public to stick with a celebrity story at the expense of “real” news was proven by the O.J. case. North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung died less than a month after the murders, but the networks and news devoted scant time to the passing of one of history’s creators of the modern totalitarian regime. O.J. launched the desire by media executives to cover cases based on ratings appeal. At the same time, it proved that obsessive coverage worked.
CNN and C-SPAN were the sole 24-hour television news networks at the time, and TMZ was still a decade in the future. That premier gossipy stalwart was preceded by any number of shows of varying news truthiness, including American Justice, Investigative Reports, Dateline, Inside Edition, and A Current Affair, all of which made a name with O.J., starting on June 12, 1994.
One thing that has faded away over the past two decades has been the daily horoscope. Every newspaper back then carried it, and most readers expected it. It’s now mostly gone. Had O.J. thought to read his horoscope that Sunday morning on June 12, he would have read this:
“Finish what you start or you’ll feel unproductive. Soothe a lover who is cranky or ill. Relatives relieve you of a financial burden. A social event with colleagues leads to a lot of shop talk.”
You never know; it could have changed history.
Main photos: Eminem [“Role Model” screenshot]. Right inset: Tupac [“Picture Me Rollin” screenshot]. Left inset: Detail of MAD magazine cover