Making a mint out of murder

OJ industry / one year on
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The Independent Online
IT WAS exactly one year ago yesterday that OJ Simpson fled an arrest warrant and took a cruise of Los Angeles that was watched on live TV by 95 million people. Since then, the OJ epic has permeated the nation's psyche, obliterated the line between fame and notoriety and, above all, made a great deal of money.

In March, the Wall Street Journal calculated that the "OJ industry" had easily surpassed the gross national product of Grenada. The prosecution has already spent $5.8m (pounds 3.6m) in trying Simpson but however weary the public may be (before the case had even begun, 90 per cent of respondents in a poll said they were tired of it) they still watch gavel-to-gavel coverage.

In a telling commercial shift, major soap manufacturers have bought ad space on Court TV. CNN, charging $24,000 for a 30-second slot, could make more than $45m on the trial. Conversely, the daytime soap opera industry has seen a collapse in its ratings. "When you have a choice between a traditional soap opera and a real-life juicy soap opera, people are going to tune into that," says Lynn Leahey, editor of Soap Opera Digest.

For the publishing industry OJ has been a boon: 15 books are already out, from Simpson's own I Want to Tell You, to his lawyer F Lee Bailey's The Defense Never Rests. Still to come are books from OJ's mom, defence lawyer Johnnie Cochran's ex-wife and four dismissed jurors.

Kato Kaelin, the freeloading houseguest who has been turning up everywhere from ex-President George Bush's table at the Kentucky Derby to a soft- core porn movie Sand, Surf and Sex, has sold 800,000 copies of his reminiscences, Kato Kaelin: The Whole Truth, at $20 a throw.

Paula Barbieri, OJ's girlfriend at the time of the murders, found no reason why she should not pose semi-naked in a magazine and Faye Resnick, Mrs Simpson's "best friend", appeared on endless chat shows to promote her best-selling tale of sex and drugs, Nicole Brown Simpson.

The motto is cash in while you can: AC Cowling, OJ's chauffeur and Buffalo Bills team-mate, capitalised by telling his story on a 1-900 number at $3-a-minute, an official OJ statuette has sold $5m worth at $3,395 apiece. At the crime scene on Bundy Drive, "I Killed Nicole" T-shirts do brisk business at $12.95.

Even Denise Brown, Nicole's sister, has made the most of her opportunity to become a coverstar - her story appeared over 12 pages of American Vogue and she now jets around the country on behalf of battered women.

Besides the near-forgotten victims themselves, others have fared less well; Mark Fuhrman, the cop who discovered the bloody glove, is retiring to Idaho, prosecutor Chris Darden has said he is "ashamed" and will give up law after the trial, and Rosa Lopez, the source of OJ's implausible alibi, has gone back to El Salvador and is engaged to a ventriloquist smitten by her act on the stand.

Whatever its final outcome, the OJ Simpson case, now entering its 100th day, has hijacked the culture, and demonstrated that it is possible to grind the tragedy of a double murder into a legal circus and display of opportunism that leaves almost no American unscathed.