Who Is O.J. Simpson's Father? Jimmy Lee Simpson Was A Mysterious Figure
When O.J. Simpson stood trial in 1995 and was found not guilty of the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, his mother, Eunice Simpson, could often be seen in the front row of the courtroom spectator seats with Simpson's older children and his sister. According to The Los Angeles Times, Simpson's mother also spent 20 minutes on the stand as a witness for the defense, defending her son's character. O.J. Simpson's father, however, was not a presence in the trial, physical or otherwise. Who is Jimmy Lee Simpson and did O.J. have a relationship with him?
The ESPN documentary series O.J.: Made In America kicks off on June 11 and explores the making and the undoing of an American hero. Concerned with more than just the "Trial Of The Century," the series covers O.J.'s life leading up to that point too, including his familial origins. If you paid attention to the trial when it occurred or were prompted to read up on it after watching the acclaimed FX drama The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, you probably have at least basic knowledge about his various relatives. Yet his father remains a mysterious figure, and for good reason. The Los Angeles Times reported that Eunice's testimony included reference to her circumstances as a single mother; she raised O.J. and his siblings alone because their father left the family early on.
Eunice passed away in 2001 at the age of 80. Her New York Times obituary states that Jimmy Lee abandoned his family when O.J. was just four years old. The single mother and her children lived in San Francisco; Eunice stayed in that area until her death. In 1977, O.J. told Parents magazine (via The New York Times) about the effect his father's departure had on him. He said:
"I resented his absence, especially when I became a teenager and was trying to find out who I was. I really needed a man around then for guidance. I get along with my father now, but it's taken years for me to come to terms with my feelings."
O.J. and his father did develop a tentative relationship later in life. Jet magazine reported that Jimmy Lee was there when O.J. was inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 1985 and took "great pride in his son's accomplishments."
Back in 1995, The New York Daily News took to task one of the many sensationalist, supposedly non-fiction books written and quickly published to capitalize on the public's fascination with Simpson. The paper said that George Carpozi Jr.'s The Lies Of O.J. Simpson " is chock-full with more errors, mistakes and goofs," and that the book alleged that Jimmy Lee, who had worked as a chef and a custodian, was gay and became a famous local drag queen after separating from Eunice. An unnamed source is quoted in the book as claiming, "Mama Simpson, as he was known to me, used to hang around the hotel where I lived and was frequently dressed in drag. Everyone knew he was O.J.'s dad."
This characterization of O.J.'s father is backed up by Jeffrey Toobin's highly regarded book, The Run of His Life, which provided much of the source material for American Crime Story. Toobin wrote that Jimmy Lee, originally of Arkansas, was a fixture of the San Francisco drag scene, eventually came out publicly as gay, and died from complications of AIDS in 1986. But when Jimmy Lee's death was reported by Jet in 1986, the cause was listed as cancer.
United Press International's obituary of Jimmy Lee also listed his cause of death as cancer and stated that he had been employed by San Francisco's Federal Reserve Bank for 35 years. But in 2001, the Los Angeles Times described Jimmy Lee only as "a onetime bank custodian." It seems the mystery of Jimmy Lee Simpson was never fully solved.