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Dreams of Better Days Died That Night : Ronald Goldman: A young man was finding his way through the maze of L.A.

July 03, 1994|CARLA HALL and GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Maybe it's Hollywood's fault or maybe it's our own, but when a murder involves the rich or famous, everyone has a scenario. And we think we recognize the players.

No wonder, then, that so many jumped to conclusions about Ronald Lyle Goldman as soon as the body of the handsome 25-year-old was discovered near that of Nicole Brown Simpson early one morning last month outside her Brentwood condominium.

He was a waiter and sometime model. His driver's license photo showed his head cocked back, a bandanna swathed around his head. Now here he was, deep in the night, dead on her walkway.

Images sprang. Rumors spread. In an instant, the world had created its own Ron Goldman--a smooth-talking, golden-skinned Westside gadabout.

But the real story bears no resemblance to the fiction, the image conjured.

At 25, Goldman was still finding his way through the maze of dreams that Los Angeles seems to offer. He longed for a serious girlfriend, but didn't have one. He wanted to open his own restaurant but that dream was years away from becoming a reality. In the meantime, he waited on tables at Mezzaluna, a casually chic trattoria, a short walk from his $750-a-month Brentwood apartment.

"I think Ron's philosophy was to shoot for the stars," said his friend Michael Davis. "I think we're all dreamers."

'He Was Trying to Get His Life Together'

Goldman and his fellow dreamers were the good-looking, weightlifting affable young men who easily make friends walking through Brentwood Gardens, a local shopping mall, or lingering over coffee at the Starbucks on San Vicente Boulevard. Like them, he embraced the mythologized Los Angeles lifestyle--he played volleyball on the beach, he surfed, he Rollerbladed, he appeared on "Studs," the now-defunct game show that featured saucy young men and women sparring and flirting with one another. "Girls will love him," the talent coordinator wrote after his audition.

It was in Brentwood that Goldman crossed paths with Nicole Simpson. They met two months ago, maybe three, when his neighbor introduced them at Starbucks, where a mix of local residents with their gym-toned bodies, their newspapers and their dogs linger over caffe lattes and fruit muffins.

She was as chatty as his friends, and any encounters between Goldman and Nicole Simpson seemed as breezy and innocent as the balmy ocean wind that ruffles the coral trees on San Vicente. That he was good-looking and disarmingly personable seems undeniable. That he was the other man in Nicole Simpson's life seems unlikely. Plain untrue, his friends insist.

No matter, Goldman--who would have been 26 Saturday--was already distracted by a job he found reasonably satisfying, a wide circle of friends and the constant challenge of wrestling Los Angeles into the shape of his dreams.

"He was trying to get his life together," said Carly Kostrubanic, a friend who dated him for about a month. "He was working really hard."

*

He made friends effortlessly. In Brentwood, while working at the California Pizza Kitchen, Goldman forged a friendship with Michael Davis when the young actor came to pick up a takeout order.

Jodi Kahn, a staffer at the trendy Theodore clothing boutique in Brentwood Gardens, recalls him visiting the store several times a week. "Ron would come in here and sit in that chair and hang out," Kahn said in the boutique, a few days after Goldman's death. "He never had a bad word to say about anyone."

In the last months of his life, after finishing work at Mezzaluna, he would drop in on his friend and neighbor Gail Evertz, once announcing his presence by playfully tossing a tennis ball through her ground-floor terrace windows. He would come bearing pasta from the restaurant--or a reminder to lock her windows.

"He would help anyone," Evertz said. "He was the kind of guy who just gave unconditionally."

Asked to describe his personality on his 1991 application to appear on "Studs," Goldman wrote: "outgoing, cocky, adventurous, relaxed and athletic."

He basked in the warmth of the climate and the outdoor lifestyle. He wore jeans, oversized shirts and Doc Martens. "He became a real California kid," Davis said.

His death might have him remembered for his quirky appearance on a flashy game show, his likeness in a clothing boutique ad and his relationship with a beautiful blonde. But, in essence, Goldman seemed not much different from the sweet, endearing prankster recalled by his childhood neighbors and high school friends in Buffalo Grove, Ill., where he was raised.

Certainly he had changed both in looks and lifestyle.

Those who have seen the recent photos of a tall, muscled young man who sometimes modeled can hardly believe it was the same short, wiry teen-ager they knew at Stevenson High.

"It's night and day," said Jeffrey James Greenbury, a classmate whose locker was next to Goldman's. "It's like when he crossed the border (to California), he changed."

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