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The Nation

His life now: With friends like these . . .

Tapes show Simpson's pals to be alternately devoted and derisive but always looking to cash in on his fame.

September 28, 2008|Harriet Ryan and Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writers

Minutes later, he jokes that Simpson is so broke he would sell his own underwear and suggests that the retired athlete has a drinking problem.

The man who made the recordings, Thomas Riccio, has been called a "hero" by Simpson for alerting him that Beardsley was trying to sell his merchandise. But after leaving a meeting at which Simpson agreed to sign 200 copies of "If I Did It," the "hypothetical confessional" book about the slayings, Riccio tells a friend that Simpson began dating Prody "not long after he killed Nicole."

Days later, after Simpson's arrest, Riccio made more than $200,000 by selling copies of the recordings and snagging a book deal.

Simpson, however, is not always the opportunists' victim. Beardsley recounts how Simpson walloped Gilbert on the head -- reducing the agent to tears -- as they watched coverage of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s 1999 plane crash. It was to demonstrate that, for a change, the media glare was not focused on Simpson. "I can do whatever I want this week," Beardsley quoted him as saying.

In one poignant moment, Simpson is flipping channels when he lands on a talk show appearance by reality TV star Kim Kardashian, whose late father was one of Simpson's oldest and most steadfast friends and a member of his murder trial's "Dream Team" defense.

"My goddaughter is being interviewed," Simpson announces. As Kardashian chats about being young and rich in Hollywood, Riccio and a man seeking a photo with Simpson make salacious comments about her exotic beauty. The former NFL star ignores them.

"I was in the hospital when she was born," he says softly.

Staring at a television set seems as close as Simpson can get to Tinseltown glamour and the loyal, well-connected friends of his pre-acquittal life. On the tapes, he talks about grasping at the remnants of his once-considerable fame.

He seems to have time for everyone who recognizes him -- even Riccio's friend, a limo driver who boasts to an uninterested Simpson about getting into strip clubs for free. When another man can't remember Simpson's movie roles, he gamely lists the "Naked Gun" movies.

After the televised saga of his murder trial, Simpson said recently, he was bitter. But his mother urged him not to let the experience darken his lighthearted personality. Since he arrived in Las Vegas for this trial, Simpson said, strangers had repeatedly treated him to dinner. He spends Sunday afternoons in a sports bar where people buy him drinks.

The experience mirrors a story Simpson tells in one recording about a wealthy nightclub patron treating him to a $75 shot. "Hey," he says, "they might as well spend it on me."

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harriet.ryan@latimes.com

ashley.powers@latimes.com

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