Although O.J. later pleaded no contest to spousal battery, both he and friends have tried to put a different spin on the event. He has intimated that he and Nicole had been drinking, that they had been "wrestling" and that his decision to accept blame was a form of gallantry, to stem the flow of bad publicity for him and his wife. A current NFL player who stars in the same social galaxy as O.J. says that Nicole was no young innocent and that she certainly knew which buttons to push. "When this all comes out, you'll see that she wasn't Little Miss Suzy Homemaker," says the player. "She had an alcohol problem. She'd get drunk and say and do things you normally wouldn't do. I don't want to tear down her character, but I don't want you to think this is a one-sided thing. The lights were screaming matches. She knew how to set him off."
In any case Nicole was treated for a swollen and blackened left eye and cheek and a cut lip at St. John's Hospital in nearby Santa Monica. O.J. received a sentence of two years probation, was required to pay $970 and was required to perform 120 hours of community service and attend counseling sessions twice a week for three months. The ugly episode receded from public view. By 1992 the couple had reached an amicable divorce settlement, although in his court filings O.J. complained that his fortunes were declining. Though he put his anticipated income for that year at $700,000, even after a $100,000 cut in pay from NBC, his financial prospects were less than rosy. The Los Angeles riots had destroyed his profitable Pioneer Chicken franchise, which necessitated the closing of an unprofitable one. The California recession had forced the closure of three of his eight Honey Baked Ham stores. He had appeared in only two movies in the previous seven years. Gifts, bad loans to relatives and an unwise stock purchase had further diminished his cash flow.
Still, the judge, determining that O.J.'s estate was valued at $10 million and that his gross income had averaged $1.1 million over the previous five years, awarded Nicole alimony of $9,000 a month and monthly child support of $15,000. She moved into a $700,000 townhouse less than two miles from the large house on North Rockingham Avenue she had shared with O.J. and kept one of the Ferraris. Their beautiful lives were allowed to proceed independently.
She jogged, worked out, shopped and dined. She was a fixture in Brentwood Gardens, the town square for a certain affluent population, although one shopkeeper thought that she was somewhat "out of her element" among the young actors and actresses who frequented the boutiques. She was, after all, 35. She tanned herself at a salon called Le Beach Club and worked out regularly at a Brentwood fitness center called simply The Gym, and on Thursday nights she danced until 2 a.m. at Renaissance, a club in Santa Monica.
For O.J. as well there was no appearance of psychic damage. Friends and colleagues say he enjoyed whatever came his way. "He hit on everything that walked," says the prominent agent. "He was not a very discriminating person." A broadcasting colleague says Simpson was a rascal, "but, as you know, he's charming and he's in that athletic world that winks at that."
But Simpson, at the age of 46, did appear to have a serious relationship with Paula Barbieri, a 25-year-old model and actress who, he liked to brag, looked like Julia Roberts. But that relationship went fallow toward the end of 1993. When a friend of Simpson's ran into Barbieri on a plane, he says she made a "sarcastic joke about ex-wives and said, 'I'm out of it, I'm leaving him alone. I have elected to let him find whatever he needs to find.' "
By last December, O.J. was desperately trying to resurrect his marriage with Nicole. At Theodore's, an upscale boutique in Brentwood Gardens, where all the players in this drama seemed to gather independently of one another in their strangely parallel lives, O.J. sat on the settee and told the shopgirls that he aimed to get back together with Nicole and that whatever had happened between them had been his fault. It is odd and coincidental that a young waiter named Ronald Goldman, unknown to O.J. but a very good friend to Nicole, would also plop down on that settee and dish with the girls. But apparently everybody came to Theodore's, a clubhouse for the young and restless, a kind of cracker barrel for those who liked to inhale the trailing fumes of celebrity.
The Simpsons appeared to be fashioning a reconciliation. Friends went out to dinner with the couple. Sometime shortly after the Super Bowl in January, O.J., Nicole and their children chartered a yacht in Florida called Miss Turnberry and luxuriated for two days at $10,000 a day.
A broadcasting colleague remembers going out with O.J. and Nicole and other friends during Super Bowl week. "It was really lovely," he says. "I thought they were getting along well. I didn't get any impression other than that they were still in love, that they wanted to get back together. I got that impression from her as well as him. They were putting the marriage back together, and the vision in O.J.'s mind was that they were going to remarry. He had even recently stopped seeing other women, which for O.J. was a sign of real commitment." Citing the wife-beating incident and the divorce, the colleague found it amazing that O.J. would pursue Nicole again: "That's powerful. Powerful. You've got to be very, very attracted to that person. He put himself on the line."
But there may have been additional aspects to their courtship. There have been reports of neighbors overhearing fighting at Nicole's condo. Given the couple's history, it's natural to wonder if their arguments had again become violent. After all, unless treated, spousal abuse often continues unchecked. Alana Bowman, who helped prosecute Simpson's 1989 case, was bitter last week over the court's failure to prescribe treatment for him. "The judge didn't feel he should go to jail," she says, "and sentenced him to three months of counseling, by phone to accommodate the traveling he had to do for work, and it wasn't therapy in domestic violence."