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Opinion | O.J. and the Monster Jealousy

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On Thursday, I went over to South Bundy Drive in Brentwood, where the double murder happened. O.J. Simpson was dead at 76. And that famous scene of violence was eerily quiet on a shimmering spring day in Los Angeles.

I had written nearly 30 years ago about the barbaric slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman at Ms. Simpson’s condo, and the infamous trial that drilled into the most sensitive parts of the national psyche, exposing conflicting views about race and policing and celebrity and legal equality.

There were farcical elements of O.J. Simpson’s “trial of the century,” from the witness Kato Kaelin, the houseguest with the frosted shag who had starred in the comedy “Beach Fever,” to Judge Lance Ito, who was such a narcissistic camera hog that he became known as Judge Itomaniac.

But I always thought of it as a great American tragedy. It had echoes of “Othello,” the most trenchant work ever written on the fatal flaw of jealousy.

Othello was a hero, a Black man beloved for his exploits on the field, a man who conquered racial setbacks and beguiled his fans and soared to great heights.

He was married to a beautiful younger woman. But, thanks to Iago — a deputy to the general who was jealous himself because he was passed over for a promotion in favor of another aide-de-camp — Othello was poisoned with jealousy, unable to cope with the demons in his head.

Desdemona, his wife, was confused, because Othello was spun up over false information. Her servant, Emilia, explained that jealous people “are not ever jealous for the cause, But jealous for they’re jealous. It is a monster, Begot upon itself, born on itself.”

Othello murdered Desdemona, while still loving her.

A year after O.J.’s murder trial, I stood in line behind the football legend’s lawyer, Johnnie “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” Cochran, at Bill Clinton’s second inaugural. Cochran, who acted as though the Simpson case was a civil rights struggle akin to Brown v. Board of Education, would soon have his own show on CourtTV.

A stream of men and women excitedly approached Cochran, wanting to have their pictures taken with the lawyer who got O.J. off.

Celebrity trumps all. Or almost all.

O.J. escaped in his criminal trial but not in his civil trial, though he never paid the penalty or expressed any penance.

He did not, however, escape the opprobrium of many in America who felt that he got away with murder.

In 1995, as an acquitted O.J. plotted to rehabilitate himself, I felt that the victims had gotten lost in the circus.

I drove an hour outside of Los Angeles to the Ascension cemetery in Lake Forest. There were bougainvillea, carnations, sunflowers and daisies heaped on the plain dark marble marker at Nicole Brown Simpson’s grave. People had left teddy bears and rosaries.

One little boy wrote a note promising he would never be mean to a woman when he grew up. A mother wrote a note assuring Nicole that her two kids would be OK: “Your children’s guardian angels will take care of them.”

I talked to a woman named Teresa Myers from Portland who stood staring at the grave for a long time. “Maybe she’s better off now because she’s at peace,” Myers told me. “But maybe she’s not because she knows now that nobody can touch him.”

When I left South Bundy on Thursday, I said a little prayer for the victims and their families. Fred Goldman, Ron’s father, said upon hearing of O. J.’s death, “No great loss.”

I feel the same.

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