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Obituaries

Robert Kardashian, 59; Served on O.J. Simpson's Defense Team

October 02, 2003|Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writer

Robert Kardashian, a member of O.J. Simpson's murder trial defense team who later admitted to doubts about his client's innocence, has died at his home in Encino. He was 59.

The attorney was diagnosed eight weeks ago with cancer of the esophagus, said his ex-wife, Kris Houghton Jenner. Their four children were with him when he died, she said.

"I will always remember him as the world's greatest father, whose first priority was his kids," said Jenner, who is married to Olympic champion Bruce Jenner.

Kardashian met Simpson on a tennis court more than 30 years ago, and they became close friends, sharing a social life that spanned decades. They played tennis and golf together, dined at fancy restaurants and took trips to Aspen, Colo.; Mexico; and New York City.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 03, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Kardashian's degree -- The obituary of Robert Kardashian in the California section on Thursday incorrectly stated that he earned a law degree at UC San Diego in 1969. Kardashian obtained the degree from the University of San Diego.

So, when the former football star was arrested June 17, 1994, on suspicion of murdering his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, lead defense attorney Robert L. Shapiro was quick to recruit Kardashian to the team.

Kardashian's job was to serve as a link between Simpson and the outside world, including his attorneys, the media and friends and relatives.

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

It was Kardashian who had read Simpson's rambling letter on television after the former USC and Buffalo Bills star fled from Kardashian's Encino home just before police arrived to arrest him.

And it was Kardashian who talked to Simpson by cell phone as the Hall of Famer and former teammate Al Cowlings led police on a televised, 60-mile slow-speed chase.

Simpson eventually surrendered at his home. On Oct. 3, 1995, he was acquitted of the murder charges, but in February 1997 he was found liable for the killings in a civil trial and was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages.

During a 1996 interview on ABC's "20-20" program, Kardashian admitted that he was no longer sure that Simpson was innocent. "I have doubts," he told interviewer Barbara Walters. "The blood evidence is the biggest thorn in my side; that causes me the greatest problems. So I -- I struggle with the blood evidence."

Kardashian, who grew up in the Baldwin Hills area, followed his older brother to USC in 1962. The future lawyer graduated a year before Simpson arrived at the university.

Not interested in joining the family meatpacking business, Kardashian earned a law degree at UC San Diego in 1969, the year he met Simpson. Kardashian practiced law for about a decade, then left law for the business world. He didn't re-enter a courtroom until Shapiro asked for his help.

Simpson lived with Kardashian and Kardashian's brother in Beverly Hills during an off-season with the Bills in the 1970s. Friends described the Deep Canyon house as a bachelor's pad, complete with frequent parties attended by attractive women.

Kardashian was present when Simpson met Nicole Brown in 1977, and they were together again when Kardashian met his first wife, Kris Houghton, the following year. Simpson was an usher at Kardashian's wedding.

The two families remained close. They frequented nightspots together and had a wide circle of mutual friends that included celebrities from the sports and entertainment worlds.

With Simpson and another investor, Kardashian started a corporation called Juice Inc., which established several frozen yogurt shops. Kardashian and Simpson later invested in a music video business called Concert Cinema.

The attorney's later expressions of doubt about Simpson's innocence apparently ended the friendship. In 2000, the two squabbled in court over a TV miniseries about the Simpson trial that purportedly contained information on the defense team supplied by Kardashian.

Kardashian is survived by his second wife of six weeks, Ellen Pierson; three daughters, Kourtney, Kimberly and Khloe; and a son, Robert.

Times staff writer Beth Shuster and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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