OJ Simpson’s Bronco chase riveted America. The memory is haunting, even after his death.

Throughout his record-shattering football career, Orenthal James “O.J.” Simpson bobbed and weaved on the gridiron like no other in his white Buffalo Bills jersey.

But with his death Wednesday from prostate cancer, the most indelible image he leaves is his bobbing and weaving on a Los Angeles freeway in a white Ford Bronco.

For those who witnessed that riveting event on live television on June 17, 1994, the memories are haunting and indelible.

For anyone too young, it is almost impossible to overstate the event’s impact, one that left a nation standing slack-jawed in front of TVs from coast to coast.

O.J. Simpson just died. Is it too soon to talk about his troubled past?

Having become the focus of police inquiry into the grizzly stabbing murders just four days earlier of Simpson’s former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman, the affable football player-turned-actor and Hertz pitchman chose to slip away from his home and flee south in the 1993 SUV owned by a friend.

It’s been 30 years, and yet many can still recall that driver’s name: Al “A.C.” Cowlings, a fellow football player.

Perhaps it’s no surprise one can summon such details with the clarity of an event unfolding yesterday. Remember, in 1994 there was no Internet as we know it, just dial-up services such as America Online and a nascent browser named Netscape.

There was no TikTok, Instagram, Facebook or any other way to instantly share information and disinformation at the speed of fiberoptic cables.

There was just the so-called “boob tube,” with its breathless news anchors passing on shreds of information and speculation. 

Simpson was driving toward Mexico, dangerously distraught. He had a gun to his own head, Cowlings told police and pleaded for officers to stay back.

O.J. Simpson’s wild Bronco chase was a harbinger of the coming racial divide over policing in communities of color

In many ways, that Bronco chase, coming as it did three years after the brutal LA beating of Rodney King by four white police officers – who were exonerated at their trial, sparking civil unrest – would open more wounds in the nation’s ongoing reckoning with race.

While many speculated that his fleeing surely was proof of guilt, others lined LA’s sprawling 405 freeway with handmade signs reading “Run O.J. Run” and “Go O.J.!”

When Simpson was deemed not guilty of murder at trial on Oct. 3, 1995, the racial divide and distrust of police simply grew deeper, a harbinger of the forthcoming era of Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many others.

But that would come later. During that Bronco chase, many simply marveled at the bizarre spectacle of it all. 

Helicopters provided non-stop footage of the vehicle’s steady procession south. Some motorists pulled over while others tried to keep pace with Simpson’s car, which was trailed by a dozen-plus police cars.

Suicide seemed a real possibility. The Hall of Fame football player had left a letter suggesting as much.

“I’ve had a great life, great friends,” it read. “Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person.”

But eventually, the Bronco did a U-turn and headed back north. Roughly an hour after the slow-speed chase had begun, Simpson and Cowlings pulled back into the celebrity’s sprawling Brentwood estate, where he was arrested and booked on double murder charges.

O.J. Simpson and his connection to the Kardashians

Simpson’s ordeal would go on to have many chapters, and to intersect with other pop culture icons.

While Simpson was found not guilty in the criminal trial, he was successfully sued in civil court by Goldman’s parents and paid out more than $30 million in damages. His financial estate in tatters, Simpson dove into a range of schemes to make money, including writing an unfathomably bizarre book called “If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer.”

He also took to selling his own memorabilia to raise money. But one such exchange in Las Vegas in 2007 led to robbery charges against him, although he claimed he was just taking back items that had been stolen. The incident landed Simpson in jail for nine years.

Then there was one of the lawyers who helped acquit Simpson of murder, a dark-haired, well-dressed L.A. native named Robert Kardashian.

Simpson had been the best man at Kardashian’s 1978 wedding to the future Kris Jenner; the two would divorce in 1991. Kardashian would die from esophageal cancer in 2003, while his wife and daughters would go on to their own TV fame, followed by massive careers as influencers.

Would we have “The Kardashians” if the name itself hadn’t been thrown into the bonfire of our cultural vanities in 1994? Perhaps. But there’s little doubt the Bronco chase fueled that inevitability.

The spectacle also ushered in a new era of television. With cable TV stations on the rise, suddenly it was clear that all-news, all-the-time would work, so long as the news was sensational.

There’s a scene Will Ferrell’s absurdist 2013 comedy “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” that is as funny as it is painfully accurate, and a direct nod to the O.J. chase.

Anchorman Ron Burgundy has been unceremoniously relegated to an all-hours cable channel, and he’s completely at a loss for how to fill the air time. Then, a flash of genius occurs to him. 

“What’s that?” Burgundy asks his producer, pointing to a monitor. “Oh, that? That’s nothing, that’s just a satellite feed of a car chase from Milwaukee,” says the producer. “That’s not news, Ron.”

“Give it to me live, OK!” Burgundy shouts. “And don’t question me again.”

Give it to me live may well be the catchphrase of our fully connected, always-on era. And it started with O.J. in a white Ford.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: After OJ Simpson’s death, a look back at that infamous Bronco chase

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Notice: ob_end_flush(): Failed to send buffer of zlib output compression (0) in /home2/arjunka2/public_html/wp-includes/functions.php on line 5420