The story you’re about to read is true. No names have been changed to protect the innocent … or the guilty.
In the early 1990s, before OJ Simpson had gone on his infamous killing spree, I was dating an actress here in Los Angeles, whose name I’d rather not disclose for a number of reasons. Suffice it to say that while she was never an A-list star, she was blond, shapely, and quite beautiful. I might also add that her father, who’s a great guy, is a Notre Dame graduate, and, quite possibly, is reading this board.
So let’s just call her the Blonde. (I know, I said I wouldn’t change any names, but I’m sure you’ll allow me this one exception.)
Now it turns out that the Blonde’s best friend was a model/actress by the name of Paula Barbieri, who had been featured in Playboy and a number of similar publications.
And it also turns out that Paula’s main squeeze was none other than OJ Simpson, a.k.a. “The Juice.” He liked being called “Juice.”
I remember the first time I met OJ. It was in late January, 1993. The Blonde and I had gone over to Paula’s luxury apartment on Wilshire Boulevard in LA to meet with Paula and the Juice.
When we arrived, Paula was there not with OJ, but with Randy Jackson (Michael Jackson’s brother, not the Randy Jackson from “American Idol”). By the way, Randy was very different than his freakish and more famous brother, due in large part to the fact that Randy is still a black man while Michael is technically a white woman.
The Blonde and I were there only a few minutes when building’s concierge called and informed Paula that OJ was in the lobby and was on his way up to her apartment.
At that point, Randy leapt from his seat, yelled a few expletives, ran out the door, into the hallway, and toward the service elevators.
Paula and the Blonde laughed as the panicked Jackson disappeared around a corner at the end of the hallway.
“Where’s he going?” I asked innocently.
“Oh, the last time OJ caught him up here with me, he beat the crap out of him,” Paula giggled.
I later found out that Paula had a habit of luring men to her apartment, and then inviting OJ over so as to make him jealous and to cause a fight. Their relationship took dysfunction to a higher level than most of us will ever know. I have lots of stories about that (things such as drug use, fights, OJ pushing Paula out of his car on the freeway, etc.), but I won’t get into it here.
Eventually, a happy-go-lucky OJ emerged from the passenger elevator and came sauntering down the hall.
OJ was dressed in a sport coat and no tie, as was I. The Blonde was wearing a short but tasteful dress. And Paula was wearing a formfitting see-through fishnet number, along with a very visible, very skimpy bra and thong. I wish I’d have had my camera with me.
So the four of us spent the night on the town going to dinner and then to a few Super Bowl parties. (Dallas and Buffalo were playing in Super Bowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl that weekend.)
There were two main parties … one was at the Santa Monica airport for the Heisman Trophy Winners, and the other was a VIP party at a Beverly Hills hotel for NFL players and their guests.
I must say that OJ had enough manners to introduce me to everybody there, including Howie Long, Lawrence Taylor and that crowd. (Two of the nicest people I met were Tim Brown and Ricky Watters, both of whom told me what an honor it was to have gone to Notre Dame.)
As a side note, OJ was driving us in his Bentley that night. Paula was sitting beside him in the front seat, while the Blonde and I were in the back. At one point, OJ turned, laughed, and said, “Hey, I wonder if people will look over here and see a black man driving you white folks around, and think I’m the chauffer.”
“In that case, would you mind wearing a little hat?” I asked him. “And could you stop up here at the Piggly Wiggly?”
Fortunately, he thought the joke was funny, so he didn’t try to stab me.
The next morning, my brother called and asked for my impressions of OJ.
I told him that OJ and I had talked on a variety of subjects and that I found him to be intelligent and gracious. He had even invited me to play golf with him, Mike Ditka, and Jim Lampley the next day.
I summed it up by saying, “OJ’s nice enough, but he seems to be the type of guy who thinks he can get away with anything.”
At the time, I had no idea how prophetic those words would become.
Over the next year, the four of us would hang out from time to time, as schedules permitted. Once, while the Blonde and I were visiting Paula at her mother’s home in Panama City, Florida, we were watching some cheap horror movie on cable TV when OJ called from LA.
He was watching the same movie. Paula put him on speakerphone and the four of us made comments throughout the film. I don’t remember the name of the movie, but what sticks out in my memory was that OJ kept acting as if he were creeped out by the villain, whose modus operandi was to leap from the darkness and viciously stab his victims.
In fact, Paula laughed at him and told him he was acting “like a girl.”
“I know,” OJ replied, “but this is really scary stuff!”
Okay, fast forward to November of 1993. I was in the airport boarding a plane for Chicago, going to South Bend for the ill-fated game between Notre Dame and Boston College.
As I collected my boarding pass, I noticed a group of people congregated around someone near the gate. To my surprise, it was OJ … and he was waving me over.
“Hey, man,” he said as I approached. “It’s good to see you.”
Then he leaned in closer. “Hey, stand here next to me and talk to me so that these other people will leave me alone,” he whispered.
“Uh, okay,” I said.
After we boarded the plane, he asked if I could sit in the open seat next to him, which I did. During the flight, I told him that I hadn’t seen Paula in a few weeks and asked how she was doing. His answer was quite revealing.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen with Paula,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Paula doesn’t understand that I need Nicole in my life,” he answered. “After all, Nicole is my ex-wife and she’s the mother of my children. And Nicole doesn’t understand that I need Paula. I just can’t get either one of them to understand!”
He went on to tell me a story about how he had given Nicole a pair of diamond earrings, and then, after a fight, had taken them back and given them to Paula. At some later event (attended by both women), Paula purposefully wore the earrings and made sure Nicole noticed. Yelling. Screaming. Catfight. Blah, blah, blah. Dysfunction to the nth degree.
OJ seemed to think it was amusing, but when I asked him how having the two women in his life was going to work out, he became very serious and introspective. He then started to once again lament about how he required them both, and how he felt helpless to make either understand his need for the other.
He spoke at length and pretty much worked himself into an emotional state. By the end of his explanation, he was in tears. You read that correctly … the big, bad, USC Heisman-Trophy-winning, Bruno-Magli-shoes-wearing football man was in tears.
On one hand, I felt bad for him. After all, the guy was crying over two women. Then again, I kept thinking, “This guy’s insane. He’s crying over two women!”
I continued on to the Notre Dame campus for the game. If I remember correctly, OJ was headed to some ceremony that weekend that had to do with the NFL Hall of Fame.
The Blonde and I had dinner with OJ and Paula a few times over the course of the following months. It was always pleasant, and OJ was always nice to me. At least he never tried to kill me.
Around this time, I scheduled a trip to Europe, where I had the opportunity to visit Lourdes, France. Paula had called me before I left and asked if I would buy her and OJ each a set of rosaries at the shrine.
I told her that I didn’t realize OJ was Catholic. She said, “He’s not, but Nicole is Catholic and his children are Catholic, so I want to give him a rosary and teach him how to say it.”
“Okay,” I replied. And so I delivered the rosaries when I returned from my trip.
Now … to June of 1994 (two days before the killings). I had broken up with the Blonde a few weeks earlier for a number of reasons. She was ultra good-looking, but there were some other issues. Anyway, we were still friendly, so I wasn’t surprised when she called me and asked for a favor.
The favor was to attend a Michael Bolton concert with her.
“But we broke up, remember?” I asked.
“But Paula is dating Michael now and she has arranged for us to have tickets and backstage passes,” she insisted.
“I thought she was dating OJ.”
“Just go to the concert with me!”
I was adamant about not going … which is another way of saying that I eventually caved in and went.
The Michael Bolton concert consisted of Michael Bolton, his band, twenty thousand screaming women, and me. I would’ve been bored had it not been for the fact that a great many of the women in the audience were in various stages of undress.
Anyway, after the show, the Blonde and I went backstage to hang with Bolton. He was a nice enough guy … friendly, rather unassuming, and a bit shorter than I’d imagined. He asked if I enjoyed the show. I told him I did. We chatted for several minutes about a number of things.
At one point, a photographer came over and had us pose for a photo. She (the photographer) then asked for my address, promising to send me a copy. Michael waved her off. “Just give me a copy when you get it developed, and I’ll give it to him,” he said.
He then turned to me. “Let’s have dinner next week with Paula. I’ll give you the photo then.”
“Okay,” I said. “By the way, how did you meet Paula?”
He then proceeded to tell me that he and Paula had met when she was in one of his music videos. “We met and started making out right there on the set,” he laughed. “And we’ve been together ever since!”
(“Classy,” I thought.) “Has she ever been to one of your concerts?” I asked.
“No,” he answered. “She’s never asked to attend one. I suppose she’s not interested.”
I told him that I’m sure she’d enjoy it and that he should invite her to attend.
He told me that he was going to be performing in Las Vegas on the following Sunday (June 12) and that he would invite Paula to be there.
Later that night, I spoke with Paula and told her about my conversation with Michael. She admitted that she had never attended one of his concerts because he had never invited her … so she’d assumed he didn’t want her to be there. (What we have here is a failure to communicate.)
“Well, he’s going to invite you to Vegas this weekend,” I informed her. “And I think you should go.”
During that conversation, I asked her what was up with OJ.
She asked, “You didn’t mention his name to Michael, did you?”
I assured her that I didn’t.
She went on to tell me that she was planning to attend some sort of fundraiser with the Juice the next day (on Saturday) and that she was going to announce to him that their relationship was over. “I should’ve broken up with him a year ago,” she said. “He always wants me to pull him out of his depressions, and I always do it. But this time, it’s OVER. I’m moving on.”
I told her, “Hmmm … I understand that you want to break up with him and all, but I was kinda hoping to get an autographed football before you do.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll get you a football.”
“Ah, that’s okay,” I told her. “On second thought, I don’t really want a football … he went to USC.”
She thought that was funny, though I was being serious.
And so … Saturday came and went.
Paula went to the party on Saturday with OJ. Afterward – according to what she later told me – she informed the Juice that he had been squeezed out, that she was done with him, and that she was seeing someone else. She said something along the lines of “it’s not you, it’s me,” and wished him a happy life.
Once again, according to Paula, he was taken aback, but in typical OJ fashion, shook his head as if to say, “Yeah, I’m not worried … you’ll be back.”
The next day (Sunday, June 12), Paula went to Las Vegas to be with Michael Bolton and to attend his concert that evening.
Apparently, OJ attended his daughter’s dance recital that afternoon here in LA, where he spoke with Nicole. The story goes that at some point in the afternoon, Nicole calmly informed OJ that, like Paula, she was done with him, that she was going into rehab, that she was moving on, that she had new plans for her life and that they didn’t include him.
Now, within a span of under twenty-four hours, both Paula and Nicole – both of whom I had personally witnessed this man crying over on a plane – had told him to get lost.
Paula had told me about a little guy named Kato who lived in the guest house behind OJ’s. According to her, Kato was a wannabe actor whose main function was to supply drugs to OJ and his posse.
Once again, according to Paula, OJ had a history of cocaine use, especially in times of stress … and it would generally result in fits of rage. She said she would try to calm him down during those times, but, of course, now she was nowhere to be found.
Apparently, according to the cell phone records, OJ tried to call Paula dozens of times that Sunday evening, but to no avail.
And he didn’t exactly have other “friends” with whom he could discuss the situation. For example, he was on the outs with Marcus Allen, who had apparently had an affair with Nicole. (By the way, OJ once introduced me to Marcus and Marcus’s wife, Catherine, who looked a lot like Nicole. Catherine eventually left Marcus, and then Marcus hooked up with Nicole … or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, the Juice wasn’t happy about it, and therefore wasn’t exactly fond of Marcus.)
According to the testimony, OJ and Kato went to Burger King that night and picked up something to eat … which, according to Paula, translates to purchasing some cocaine.
All the while, OJ couldn’t find Paula. He called ten, twenty, thirty times. No answer.
The next morning, the world found out that OJ Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole, had been brutally murdered along with a friend named Ron Goldman. (I personally found out when my phone rang and it was the Blonde screaming, “Paula just called and told me that OJ killed Nicole!”)
A few days later, the Juice wrote what must have been the dumbest “suicide note” in the history of suicide notes. Now he was on the run. He had become a fugitive.
Before long, his friend and former teammate, A.J. Cowling, was driving him north on the 405 in Los Angeles.
I called my parents back in Alabama. “Hey, are you watching this?” I asked.
“Of course,” my father responded.
“Well, you know those crazy people I was hanging out with here in LA? They’re not LIKE the people in that Bronco … they ARE the people in that Bronco.”
I later heard that the police confirmed that OJ had the following items with him during the infamous slow-speed chase: Several thousand dollars in cash, a passport, a fake beard, a gun, a picture of Nicole, and a ROSARY.
Interestingly, Michael Bolton publicly denied ever having met Paula. When a reporter asked about the music video she was in, Bolton replied, “Oh, yeah, I think she may have been a dancer or something in that video, but I don’t really remember her.”
A couple of TV news reporters in LA wanted to interview me. I declined. I didn’t want to get caught up in that circus, which is exactly what it became.
I must say that it was rather surreal to see the Juice standing in that courtroom, and to think, “Oh my God, I sat down and had dinner with that guy on several occasions.”
One day, while he was in prison, I got a phone call from Paula. She said she had just left the jail, where she had visited OJ, and that he had asked her to call me.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because he wanted to know if you’d pray for him.”
“He said that he always thought you were a good guy and that he wondered if you’d pray for him,” she explained.
“Oh,” I answered, not knowing whether I should take it as a compliment or burst out laughing. I do remember thinking, “Maybe I should say a prayer for the people he sliced up and for their families.”
As I had told my brother, my very first impression of OJ Simpson was that he seemed like the type of guy who thought he could get away with anything. And he did.