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It's not that Simpson was a phony; he was just a man who had traveled a long way, accumulating public expectations. When his image was autopsied last week, ; the story of his life provided evidence to both sides; that he was gentle and generous and violent and mean. His guiding principles, he once told a Sports Ilustrated reporter, were "my mother. The Bible. Do unto others." But preserving sainthood was hard work. "You realize if you're living an image, you're just not living," he said. "You find out the first thing in life is to be true to yourself. A lot of people think I'm the good guy who should drink milk and go to church every Sunday. I believe it's good if you do, but I don't . . . not all the time, anyway."
He didn't pretend to be more humble than he was; his mother Eunice, a hospital orderly, recalls that even before he went to kindergarten, he would tell her that "someday you're going to read about me." But not, surely, as one of the greatest sports heroes of his generation. For him and his friends growing up, the path to prison looked short and straight. They hung out in the San Francisco projects, stoning cars, fighting, getting hauled into juvenile hall. "I only beat up dudes who deserved it," he once said, "at least once a week, usually on Friday or Saturday night. If there wasn't no fight, it wasn't no weekend."
His talent saved him. "If it hadn't been for football," Simpson said, "we wouldn't have come to school." By the time Simpson was a junior at U.S.C., he was well along toward becoming the greatest running back college football had ever seen. He was late reporting to the Buffalo Bills training camp because he held out for a bigger salary. "Money means everything to the ghetto kids who don't have any," he explained. "I want to do youth work. If I can show them I got something from sports, they'll respect me. When I was a kid, Willie Mays was my hero. Not because he was a good baseball player. But because he had a big house."
O.J. got his big house. He married his childhood sweetheart Marquerite and had three children before the first tragedy struck in 1979. Their two-year-old daughter Aaren fell into the backyard swimming pool and drowned. When O.J. heard about the accident, he rushed down the hospital hallway screaming, "She murdered my child, she murdered my child!" That year he and Marquerite were divorced, and he had knee surgery. His playing days were over.
But Simpson had long had his other lives: his friends, his movies, his television production company -- and his new love. In 1977 he found Nicole Brown, a beautiful, blond, 18-year-old waitress at the Daisy Club in Beverly Hills. "O.J. came in and fell in love," says their friend Michael Dubasso. "He quickly moved her in." They married in 1985 shortly before the birth of their first child, Sydney.