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Kardashian-Simpson Bond Stands Test of Time, Trouble

July 06, 1994|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Since they met on a tennis court 25 years ago, Robert Kardashian has become one of O.J. Simpson's closest confidants. Now their relationship goes beyond close--Kardashian has become the link between the former football superstar charged with murder and the outside world, including his lawyers, the media and assorted friends and relatives.

It is Kardashian who talks to Simpson daily, appears in court during the week and makes jail visits on the weekends. It was Kardashian who read the farewell letter written by Simpson to a rapt nationwide television audience almost three weeks ago and it was Kardashian who recently reactivated his law license to help defend Simpson, free of charge.

"I know O.J. better than anyone on the legal team," Kardashian, 50, said in an interview. "There are so many things I know about his personality. My job is really strategy and liaison between the lawyers and O.J."

Kardashian leapt into public attention June 17, when Simpson bolted from Kardashian's Encino home just as the football great was to surrender to police on charges of murdering his ex-wife and her friend. Later that day, Kardashian appeared on national television to read the rambling and emotionally charged letter from Simpson. As day turned into evening, and Simpson and former teammate Al Cowlings were leading authorities on a 60-mile pursuit, Kardashian tried to talk Simpson in by cellular phone.

Kardashian said his jailhouse visits, which have become staples of weekend television coverage of the case, are wrenching. "I've never been to a jail before. It's extremely depressing. It makes me sick every time I go down there," Kardashian said. "We can't have any physical contact. I want to hug him, I want to show him that I care. It's very difficult.

"We're going 20 hours a day on this," Kardashian said. "But he's going through worse hell than I am. I can't complain. I sleep in a real bed at night. Look where he's sleeping . . . he's in a cage."

In happier times, the two men shared many things: college ties, enjoyment of a jet-set lifestyle, business ventures, family fun.

Both have an intense commitment to USC. Though they were not there at the same time, they frequently attended alumni events and contributed to the school. They even opened a fashion boutique on the campus--called jag O.J.--which sold high-priced jeans and other clothes for a couple of years in the late 1970s.

Kardashian, a second-generation Los Angeles resident who grew up in Baldwin Hills, followed in his older brother's footsteps to USC, which he attended from 1962 to 1966. Like his brother, Kardashian served as the student football team manager, although he did not cross paths with Simpson, who attended USC from 1967 to 1969.

Upon graduation, Kardashian went to the University of San Diego, where he received a law degree in 1969. His brother, Tom, says Robert went to law school to avoid going into the meatpacking business the Kardashian family owned.

But law did not hold much interest for Kardashian; he essentially stopped practicing in the late 1970s, preferring to concentrate on his start-up businesses and investments.

Before Simpson's court hearings, Kardashian had not been inside a courtroom for 20 years. At the request of Simpson's lead attorney, Robert L. Shapiro, Kardashian reactivated his license to practice law, which had become inactive three years ago.

Kardashian and Simpson shared a social life that spanned decades, including tennis and golf games, fancy restaurants, and trips to Aspen, Mexico and New York City.

Simpson lived with Kardashian and his brother in Beverly Hills during an off-season from the Buffalo Bills in the '70s. Friends say the Deep Canyon house was a true bachelor's pad--complete with frequent parties and social events.

Kardashian met his future wife, Chris Houghton, in 1978 when she was 17. Kardashian was with Simpson when he met Nicole Brown, then 18, at the Daisy nightclub in Beverly Hills in 1977. Simpson was an usher at Kardashian's wedding.

After marriage, the Kardashian and Simpson families grew--and grew closer.

With their wives and children, the men traveled together, spending Christmases in Aspen, where Kardashian would dress up as Santa Claus. The two couples dined together frequently, went to nightclubs and had a wide circle of friends that included celebrities from the sports and entertainment worlds.

Both went through painful divorces in the early 1990s. (After the Kardashians' divorce, Chris Kardashian married Olympic medalist Bruce Jenner.) Kardashian said that he believed it was best for Simpson to be away from Nicole and that he advised Simpson not to get back together with her.

"I was torn, but I wanted him to get on with his life," Kardashian said. "I thought that would be better for him.

"He always did what he wanted to do," Kardashian said. "But he asked my opinion. I gave him both sides of the issue. I never said, 'Don't do this, do this.' That's not how we operate."

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