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O.J. Simpson dies of cancer at 76

The controversial former NFL star, whose acquittal on murder charges in 1995 marked one of the most sensationalized trials in modern history, has died from cancer, his family said.

O.J. Simpson, the NFL Hall of Famer whose acquittal on murder charges in 1995 marked one of the most famous and lurid trials of the 20th century, died Wednesday at 76 from cancer, his family said.

"On April 10th, our father, Orenthal James Simpson, succumbed to his battle with cancer," the family said in a message posted on X, formerly Twitter. "He was surrounded by his children and grandchildren."

Simpson was a football star at the University of Southern California in the 1960s before becoming one of the NFL's all-time great running backs for the Buffalo Bills in the 1970s. He went on to become an actor, a commercial pitchman and broadcaster.

In 1994, he was arrested and charged with the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman.

“The only thing I have to say is it’s just further reminder of Ron being gone all these years," Goldman's father, Fred Goldman, told NBC News about Simpson's death in a phone interview on April 11. "It’s no great loss to the world. It’s a further reminder of Ron’s being gone.”

Fred Goldman and daughter Kim released a separate statement later in the day to NBC News, saying the news of Simpson's death "is a mixed bag of complicated emotions and reminds us that the journey through grief is not linear."

They added, "We will continue to advocate for the rights of all victims and survivors, ensuring our voices are heard both within and beyond the courtroom. And despite his death, the mission continues; there’s always more to be done. Thank you for keeping our family, and most importantly Ron, in your hearts for the last 30 years."

The criminal trial became a television spectacle that ushered in a new level of attention on true crime sagas. It ended with Simpson being found not guilty of all charges in 1995 in a verdict that divided the nation.

Simpson later went to prison for nine years after being convicted of armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas in 2008. He was released in 2017 after serving the minimum sentence.

Reports circulated earlier this year that Simpson had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. However, his family did not specify what kind of cancer he had in their statement announcing his death.

O.J. Simpson’s football stardom

Simpson became a high school football standout in San Francisco and then a collegiate star at City College of San Francisco in the mid-1960s.

He became nationally known after he transferred to USC, where he led the nation in rushing in 1967 and 1968 and became one of the greatest collegiate running backs in history. He earned the nickname "Juice" in reference to his initials "O.J.," which commonly refers to orange juice.

In 1968, he was the recipient of the Heisman Trophy as college football’s top player. Simpson later sold the prestigious trophy in 1999 to raise money to pay a $33.5 million civil penalty levied against him for the wrongful death of Goldman and battery of his ex-wife.

Simpson was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1969 NFL draft and went on to a prolific career with the Buffalo Bills in the 1970s. He became the first NFL player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season when he ran for 2,003 yards in 1973 to earn NFL MVP honors.

His 11,236 career yards rushing ranked No. 2 in NFL history when he retired after the 1979 season. That number now ranks 21st in NFL history.

Simpson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and then the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.

Simpson achieves fame beyond football

Following his playing days, he became a popular pitchman in commercials. A famous Hertz rental car ad depicted him dashing through the airport to get to the rental car counter and brought him to a new audience beyond sports.

He also appeared in movies, notably "The Naked Gun" comedies in the 1980s and early '90s. He played the bumbling Detective Nordberg on Leslie Nielsen's police squad.

Simpson also appeared in the award-winning television series "Roots" in 1977 and thrillers like "The Towering Inferno" and "Capricorn One" in the 1970s.

The 'trial of the century'

Simpson's sports legacy ultimately took a backseat to the lurid murder trial that captivated the country in the mid-1990s.

He was arrested in 1994 after his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death outside her home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles.

It produced some of the lasting images of the 1990s and some of the most famous scenes of any televised trial in history.

When Simpson failed to turn himself in after an arrest warrant was issued in June 1994, he fled in a white Ford Bronco driven by friend Al Cowlings, who said Simpson was suicidal. Multiple television stations cut to a live look at the Bronco driving down the freeway in LA with police in pursuit. An NBA Finals game between the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets was even interrupted for the live broadcast.

The lurid trial produced a host of memorable images and moments: Simpson struggling to fit on gloves found at the murder scene, the machinations of his legal "Dream Team" including Johnnie Cochran and Kim Kardashian's father, Robert Kardashian, and Cochran's famous "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit" statement about the glove.

The proceedings also made celebrities out of Judge Lance Ito, prosecutors Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden, and witness Kato Kaelin.

Simpson was found not guilty in 1995 in a stunning verdict that divided the nation, particularly along racial lines. In 1997, a civil jury found him liable for the wrongful death of Goldman and battery against Brown and ordered him to pay $33.5 million in restitution.

The trial produced so much drama that it spawned dueling television shows. A five-part ESPN documentary and the FX series "The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" both were released in 2016.