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Widespread Public Disdain Seems to Surprise Simpson : Celebrity: Chilly reaction includes talk of shunning him at country club. Experts say he should lie low for a while.

October 13, 1995|JAMES RAINEY and HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

O.J. Simpson may still have his Ferrari and his Bentley, and may even be able to take a Jacuzzi with his daughter, but life outside the gates of his Brentwood mansion has become decidedly chilly in the 10 days since he won his freedom.

In short order after his release, Simpson was dropped by his talent agency, International Creative Management, saw a national television interview founder, failed to land a pay-per-view special and--closer to home--learned that members of his once intimate country club crowd are talking about freezing him out.

At the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, women are circulating a petition for his ouster, his picture is punctured by a thumb tack on a locker room bulletin board and even a former golfing buddy says: "He is persona non grata. "

The man who had traded on a ready smile and a quip now finds himself unable to open doors merely with his abundant charm. One lawyer close to Simpson's defense team doubted that the Hall of Famer can heal the rifts the way other celebrities tainted by scandal have. He said Simpson's situation is very different from those of Michael Jackson and Woody Allen, who were accused of sexual activity with minors, and boxer Mike Tyson, who was convicted of rape.

"Allen, Tyson and Jackson still had talent to sell. This guy [Simpson] had credibility to sell," said the attorney. "He doesn't have that anymore, and he can't play football anymore. He has more problems than any of them, even though he was acquitted."

One high-powered neighbor from Brentwood, quoting British author Evelyn Waugh, said Simpson is left only with "that fatal disease called charm."

Simpson and his supporters seem incredulous that, after nine months of trial and an acquittal, he still must defend himself. An ally wryly noted that the former football superstar was bashed both for attempting an interview on NBC and then for backing out. Feminists called him a "chicken."

"This reaction to his return doesn't seem very American," said Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., Simpson's chief defense attorney. "This is a country that has traditionally taken people back who have fallen from grace. Richard Nixon left office in disgrace and was later welcomed at the White House. Spiro Agnew's bust was put in the Capitol this year. There are a lot of other examples, including Mike Milken.

"I don't look for sinister motives, but what is the difference between O.J. and the others?" Cochran said, alluding to Simpson's race.

Broader issues are also at stake, said Peter Neufeld, a New York-based lawyer who was a member of the defense team. "O.J. is entitled to enjoy the fruits of his liberty the way the rest of us are," he said. "I think it's unconscionable that people are trying to deny him that."

For his own part, Simpson has ignored the advice of some public relations specialists, who have said he can best resurrect his image by lying low for a time, demonstrating his sorrow over the murders and then slowly emerging for selective appearances.

Instead, Simpson told the New York Times this week that he rejects public opinion polls that show a vast majority of Americans believe he murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman. "I don't think most of America believes I did it," Simpson said.

He told the newspaper that he is still optimistic about his chances of making a living and restoring life on his own terms. He denied reports of financial collapse, citing ownership of flashy cars and homes in Brentwood and New York.

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"Maybe I'm a little cocky," Simpson reportedly said. "But in my heart I feel I can have a conversation with anyone." He even proposed meeting with battered women and admitted he was wrong to "get physical" with Nicole Simpson in a 1989 spousal abuse incident. And he challenged prosecutor Marcia Clark to a debate on pay-per-view television, adding: "I'd like to be able to knock that chip off Marcia's shoulder."

Although he seems determined to glide into view on his own terms, Simpson cannot control the response.

"I already invited him to talk to me during the trial and he declined," Clark said in a terse reply to the debate proposal, delivered by her agent.

At the Rainbow Services women's shelter in San Pedro, executive director Connie McFall said: "This is just one more indication of his incredible arrogance, that he actually thinks he has something to contribute in the area of domestic violence. What possibly can he say to battered women?" Other shelter operators expressed outrage at Simpson's use of the term "get physical," saying it minimized his serious abuse of his former wife.

Simpson's decision to give an interview to NBC provoked a flood of protest calls to the network. And his acquittal seems to have pumped new life into the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, and into feminism in general.

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