After his reign as a football legend — but prior to the June 1994 murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson — O.J. Simpson enjoyed a long stint as a familiar and even beloved figure in show business.
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, The Juice turned up all over television. In addition to his work as a sportscaster and being a frequent talk-show visitor, Simpson also guested on numerous TV series and won acclaim as Kadi Touray in ABC’s landmark 1977 miniseries Roots. From 1986 to 1991, he costarred as T.D. Parker on the HBO football sitcom, 1st and 10.
Even more ubiquitous were O.J.’s commercials for Hertz Rent-a-Car. The popular spots depicted the NFL great running through airports with his signature gridiron grace. Those ads moved a lot of vehicles for the company.
O.J. Simpson also lit up the big screen, regularly appearing in movies right up until the events that forever changed the public perception of his name. Here’s a handy guide to The Juice’s cinematic canon.
THE KLANSMAN (1974)
Except for a lost 1968 art film titled Why?, O.J. Simpson debuted on the big screen in The Klansman, a mind-boggling potboiler costarring powerhouse thespians Lee Marvin and Richard Burton.
The heat comes down in rural Alabama, where the local KKK runs wild after an innocent black man is accused of sexually assaulting a white woman.
One strong, irrepressible African-American resident rises up to first infiltrate and then rain down violent justice upon the Klan. That avenger’s name is Garth and he is brawnily embodied by Orenthal James Simpson.
THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974)
O.J. made his action hero bones as a security chief turned firefighter and rescue worker in this legendarily mammoth all-star disaster epic.
Battling a blaze in a 138-story skyscraper and supplying all manner of heaving human drama on the way to safety, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen lead a cast that includes William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, and Dabney Coleman.
Inferno not only established O.J. as a winning screen presence, but the blockbuster burned all the way to a Best Picture Academy Award nomination (it lost to Paul Newman’s other ’74 smash, The Sting).
THE CASSANDRA CROSSING (1976)
The Towering Inferno was just one of a series of 1970s celebrity-studded disaster movies, and its success just kept more coming.
Among them is The Cassandra Crossing, a combination train derailment/plague outbreak/drug smuggling saga starring Sophia Loren, Richard Harris, Burt Lancaster, Martin Sheen, and Ava Gardner.
O.J. Simpson plays an FBI agent in hot pursuit of intercontinental heroin transporters and, in what now comes off pretty hilarious, his undercover disguise is that of a priest.
KILLER FORCE aka THE DIAMOND MERCERNARIES (1976)
O.J. shares the screen with heavy-hitters Telly Savalas, Peter Fonda, Christopher Lee, and two-time Bond girl Maud Adams in Killer Force.
The Juice portrays the driver in a five-man team of ace thieves who conspire to pull off the heist of the century from a South African diamond mine.
In an interesting ballyhoo footnote, the studio marketed Killer Force to different audiences by using two sets of ads and posters in particular demographic locales. In predominately white areas, the campaign focused on Telly Savalas; in black neighborhoods, the promos were all about O.J. Simpson.
A KILLING AFFAIR (1977)
The CBS movie A Killing Affair showcases O.J. as a detective who’s partnered for the first time with a female officer, played by Elizabeth Montgomery (Samantha on Bewitched). Sparks of attraction develop between them, but O.J.’s married.
The slight but noticeable resemblance of Montgomery to Nicole Brown Simpson will not go unnoticed, particularly when bearing in mind the title of the movie.
CAPRICORN ONE (1977)
The conspiracy thriller Capricorn One boasts a cult following independent of O.J.’s presence, but the fact that he’s in it as an astronaut hasn’t hurt its ongoing reputation either.
O.J.’s fellow space travelers are James Brolin and Sam Waterson, but instead of traveling to Mars, they discover the U.S. government is faking the entire mission. Elliot Gould ups the angst effectively as a journalist unraveling the cover-up.
O.J. teams up again with his Cassandra Crossing costar Sophia Loren in Firepower, a high-octane blowout from Death Wish series director Michael Winner.
After Charles Bronson turned the movie down, James Coburn supplied brooding machismo to the lead role. It’s an ersatz 007 espionage adventure about the pursuit of the world’s wealthiest recluse. Coburn leads the charge; O.J. is his right-hand agent of mayhem.
GOLDIE AND THE BOXER (1979)
Melissa Michaelsen plays Goldie, a plucky orphan girl in 1946. O.J. Simpson is Joe, a returning World War II vet who takes up boxing.
Together, as Goldie and the Boxer, they inspire one another to a series of victories in a goofy kids’ TV movie that scored a ratings knockout for NBC. The network even aired a sequel two years later, Goldie and the Boxer Go to Hollywood.
DETOUR TO TERROR (1980)
Regardless of what Detour to Terror is about (it’s about O.J. as an L.A.-to-Vegas bus driver defending his passengers from desert bandits) or whether or not the movie is any good (it’s kind of okay), this movie stands as a slab of history.
Amid a crazy cast that includes Lorenzo Lamas, Anne Francis, and Arte Johnson, Nicole Brown — the future Mrs. Orenthal James Simpson — stands out as one of the imperiled riders on the bus. She conveys fear convincingly.
COCAINE AND BLUE EYES (1983)
O.J. dons gumshoes and provides hardboiled narration in high film-noir tradition in Cocaine and Blue Eyes. He’s not good at it. As private dick Michael Brennen, though, he does crack the case of a missing femme fatale.
Prior to O.J.’s subsequent notoriety, the only memorable aspect of Cocaine and Blue Eyes is an onscreen appearance of punk marauders the Mau-Mau’s blasting out their anthem “Warbaby” at a rock club.
THE NAKED GUN MOVIE SERIES (1988 – 1994)
After rewriting the rules of comedy in 1980 with Airplane!, the smash film’s creators brought their lunacy to the small screen two years later with Police Squad!, a six-episode ABC spoof of cop shows starring Leslie Nielsen.
Police Squad! generated enough of a fervent following for the team to return to the movies in 1988 with The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
It proved to be (and remains) a nonstop laff riot, with no small number of gut-busters coming from O.J. as bumbling, beleaguered, and bad-luck-prone Detective Nordberg.
Two similarly uproarious sequels followed, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991) and The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994). O.J. is hilarious in all of them.
The third installment has the dubious distinction of opening on March 18, 1994. It was still actively playing in theaters on the occasion of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson getting murdered.
CIA CODENAME: ALEXA (1992)
The Juice reunites with his Detour to Terror costar Lorenzo Lamas in CIA Codename: Alexa. This time, though, Lamas is the main man of action, while O.J. is a police detective with whom he teams up to take down a psycho-killer crime ring. The job gets done.
NO PLACE TO HIDE (1992)
Kris Kristofferson headlines No Place to Hide as Joe Garvey, a depressed, booze-besotted police detective investigating the onstage murder of a ballet dancer. O.J. essentially cameos, providing some info to Garvey while sitting in a wheelchair.
The never-completed NBC pilot Frogmen was to have starred O.J. Simpson as John “Bullfrog” Burke, leader of the Navy SEAL team of the title.
Frogmen remains of gruesome note as O.J. was working on it when his ex-wife and her friend got stabbed to death.
Related: The Many Knives of O.J. Simpson
In addition, costar Todd Allen says he went with O.J. to a cutlery store and witnessed The Juice purchase the very knife that the LAPD alleged was the murder weapon. That knife has still not been recovered.
Main photo: Goldie and the Boxer video/screenshot