Whether at star-studded parties, trendy clubs or just shopping at neighborhood boutiques in Brentwood, O. J. Simpson and his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, were a couple that grabbed attention.
Fit, attractive and accustomed to expensive cars and lavish lifestyles, the former Laguna Beach residents were strong-minded and witty people who seemed to command a room, even during a stormy marriage and fitful attempts to reconcile, friends said.
The former football great and the athletic Nicole Simpson, who divorced him in 1992, were seen together frequently during much of the last year as they made what appeared to be a sincere attempt to reunite, especially on O. J.'s part, friends said. But Nicole Simpson--who was killed late Sunday night outside her home--apparently told Simpson in recent weeks that they could not hope to resolve their differences, police sources said.
“They were definitely courting each other again,” said one friend, who declined to be named, recalling times when the couple were seen at popular Brentwood restaurants and at the Brentwood Mart, a mall of shops and eateries on 26th Street. In addition, they had begun sharing more time together with their two children--Sidney Brooke, 9, and Justin, 6--the friend said.
“They were very visible. . . . He had the highest regard for her, and for her as a mother,” the friend said.
Simpson, 46, and his former wife, 35, who grew up in the Monarch Bay community of Dana Point, were together at a number of high-profile bashes after their divorce, including a fund-raising benefit for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center held in May, 1993, at the Century Plaza Hotel. Don Klosterman, former general manager of the Los Angeles Rams football team, remembered attending the fete and noticing that the couple appeared close. She held his arm, and they attracted the usual amount of attention, Klosterman said.
“Walking in, you’d see them arm in arm,” he said. “She’s a very, very attractive lady. . . . There always seemed to be a lot of laughter (around them). Like any couple, they were going to have misgivings with each other at times, but I’ve never seen it flare at all. They were just a great couple together.”
Klosterman, a longtime friend and golfing partner of Simpson’s, described him as a charismatic personality who never showed a tendency toward anger.
“In all the years that I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him lose his temper or his composure,” Klosterman said. “He was always up . . . kidding people. He has a great sense of humor. He is a lot of fun to be with, and always has been.”
Like others in Simpson’s circle, Klosterman expressed disbelief at the growing evidence that police sources say could link the Hall of Fame athlete to Nicole Simpson’s murder. That evidence includes a bloodstained glove recovered from his Brentwood home, as well as drops of blood found on Simpson’s driveway.
“I just can’t conceive that he would be involved in anything like this,” Klosterman said. “It’s so inconsistent with his demeanor and his behavior that I’ve known through the years.”
Yet it was no secret that the relationship had been rocky at times. Three years before their divorce, Simpson pleaded no contest to a spousal battery charge after he allegedly kicked and hit his wife, yelling, “I’ll kill you,” at their estate on Rockingham Avenue. That incident occurred shortly after 3 a.m. on New Year’s Day, 1989.
In January, Nicole Simpson bought a $625,000, Mediterranean-style condo two miles from the home on Rockingham. Since then, police said, officers have had to intervene in several domestic disputes between Simpson and his former wife. One officer described it as “an ongoing problem.”
Late Sunday night, Nicole Simpson and a male friend, 25-year-old Ronald Lyle Goldman, were slain at the gate of the condo. Friends said they were close friends who were often seen together, but police said they apparently had no romantic involvement. Investigators theorized that Goldman--a waiter at a nearby restaurant--was killed after he returned a pair of glasses that Nicole Simpson had left at the restaurant earlier that night.
Although Nicole Simpson and Goldman knew each other, one family friend of the Simpsons said: “There was no romance (between them). That’s a fact. (He) was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Nicole Simpson began dating Simpson shortly after graduating from Dana Hills High School in Dana Point, where she was called a popular student and “campus beauty” by instructor Harlen Chambers, who said she was a member of the homecoming court in 1976, her senior year. She was married to Simpson for seven years, often traveling with him, before filing for divorce. In ending the marriage, she cited irreconcilable differences.
John Pentz of Newport Beach, the student body president at Dana Hills High School in 1976, said he was shocked to learn of her murder.
“She was a real nice girl, extremely beautiful, very friendly,” Pentz said, adding that the students of the time were divided into two categories, surfers and socials. “She hung out with the surfer crowd, she wasn’t very involved in other school activities.”
Pentz said fame never went to her head. Even when she and her husband were recognized on a first-name basis when they visited their favorite South Laguna haunts, the two would stop to chat with old friends, he said.
Nicole Simpson’s family issued a statement Tuesday night from their Dana Point home describing her as “a kind, generous and loving daughter, sister and friend.”
“Her sense of caring and her nurturing spirit made her a most sensitive and adoring mother,” the statement said.
Two neighbors, interviewed just outside the community’s gates, said friends and relatives making their way to and from the family’s home Tuesday appeared distraught, their faces tear-stained. The women, who asked not to be named, said they believed the Simpsons’ two young children were staying with the grandparents.
“What are they going to tell the children? The whole neighborhood just feels for them,” said one resident. “They’re a very close-knit family, very nice people,” said another resident.
Nicole Simpson was funny, sometimes opinionated and an aficionado of the good life, friends said. She drove a white Ferrari, spent much of her time working out at Brentwood athletic clubs or jogging on San Vicente Boulevard, and liked to dance at Renaissance, a popular club on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade.
Usually, she danced there on Thursday nights, often until 2 a.m., said Ray Barron, 37, a bartender at Renaissance who also lives in Brentwood.
“She was very charming, very attractive, fun to be with,” Barron said. “There was always a group of guys hitting on her. (She was) a sexy dresser, a good-looking woman. . . . You could see how somebody could become very attached to her.”
Even on nights when 500 people jammed the club, Nicole Simpson seemed to stand out, Barron said.
“She was a nice lady--she wasn’t sleazy by any means,” Barron said. “I always thought she was very classy.”
Barron, who met Nicole late last year, said he later got to know her because they own the same type of dog--an Akita, a Japanese breed known for its fierce protectiveness. Not long ago, her dog, Kato, escaped the yard and he returned it to her, Barron said. Nicole gratefully invited him into the house for coffee.
There were pictures of her children in the condo, but no obvious sign of her marriage to Simpson.
“She never, ever mentioned O. J.,” Barron said. “She really didn’t go too deep into her personal life.”
But other friends said she maintained strong feelings for Simpson. Pam Schwartz, a close friend of the Simpsons, said another friend saw them together Sunday at a dance recital for their daughter, Sidney.
Schwartz said she talked to Nicole Simpson on Saturday afternoon during a rehearsal at Paul Revere Junior High, where the ex-wife said: “I’ve always loved O. J.”
During the years they were together, the Simpsons liked to throw frequent, celebrity-filled parties, first at a beachfront home they owned in Laguna Beach, then later at the estate on Rockingham, friends said.
Rocco Cedrone, 56, a friend of Simpson’s since his days as a Heisman Trophy winner at USC in the 1960s, remembers attending the elaborate 1985 wedding for the couple at Simpson’s home. The event took place in a tent that held about 150 guests, plus a band, flowers and gourmet food.
“I’ve been to some of the great weddings of our times, and this ranks right up there,” said Cedrone, who owns a menswear store, Rocco, in Beverly Hills. “He always had a large crowd up at the house. The atmosphere was always upbeat, whether people were playing pool, playing tennis, watching sports.
As Simpson and his ex-wife began trying to patch up their relationship, word spread through Brentwood and in entertainment and sports circles. A saleswoman at one upscale clothiers on San Vicente Boulevard recalled Simpson coming in near Christmas, talking happily about the couple getting back together.
“He said he was going to reconcile,” said saleswoman Jodi Kahn of the shop Theodore. “He seemed like he was really happy.”
Contributing to this story were Times staff writers Michael Arkush, Mathis Chazanov, Michael Granberry, Nancy Hill-Holtzman, Rene Lynch, Jim Newton, Carla Rivera and Rebecca Trounson.