It's been 20 years since the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, and 20 years since Simpson's ex-husband, O.J. Simpson, was put on trial for their murders. It was the case that both shocked and fascinated the nation — the first trial of its kind to truly embody the word "infotainment." The O.J. Simpson trial was broadcast for 135 days and the verdict — an acquittal for the former NFL running back — was watched by 150 million people. America hung on every twist and turn, almost as if it were a primetime soap instead of a real-life murder case. The many players in the trial became as famous as any actor in Hollywood. The O.J. Simpson trial changed the media landscape, and made room for America to embrace a new kind of celebrity — the reality star.
One reality star to come out of the trial was, oddly, also one of the people closest to the case — Kim Kardashian. Kim's father, Robert Kardashian, was one of O.J.'s personal friends and joined the "Dream Team" of lawyers when O.J. was arrested. Kim was 13 when the trial started and has said that the O.J. Simpson trial caused one of the greatest conflicts within her family, as her mother, Kris Jenner, and stepfather, Bruce Jenner, supported Nicole Brown Simpson's family on the prosecution side of the trial. She spoke about the case during her time on the Dr. Phil Show.
There's no doubt that the O.J. Simpson trial rocked the Kardashian-Jenner family and was a heartbreaking experience for everyone involved. Though it did cause conflict within the family, it also can be credited for launching Kim — and subsequently, her entire family's — fame. Here's how.
The Chase Proved Reality Television Could Thrive In America
On June 17, 1994, O.J. Simpson was chased by police in his Ford Bronco, driven by former NFL player Al Cowlings. The scene interrupted regularly scheduled programming, and 95 million viewers stayed tuned to the live story, approximately 5 million more than who watched last year's Super Bowl. The chase proved that reality could be just as dramatic and strange as anything fictional — and, most importantly, that people would watch it.
Kris Jenner Was A Part of the Case
Kris is Kim's "momager" and the driving force behind the Kardashian brand — but it might not have existed at all had Kris not been connected with the O.J. Simpson case. The case created celebrities out of the lawyers, witnesses, and friends and family of the victims. Though Kris was divorced from Robert Kardashian at the time of the trial — she was already married to her second husband Bruce Jenner — her name had a lot of clout in the years following the O.J. Simpson trial. Kris pitching the show that would become Keeping Up With the Kardashians would probably not have succeeded had she not become a pseudo celebrity herself through the O.J. Simpson trial.
The "Famous By Association" Connection
Many people associated with the O.J. Simpson trial became famous during the trial. Some held onto this fame long after the trial ended. Whether these people influenced Kim or her family is unclear, but what is clear is that, for the first time in history, you didn't need to necessarily be famous for a specific reason — you just needed to become associated with others who are.
Faye Resnick is one of the clearest examples of fame by association. A friend of Nicole's, Faye testified in court, claiming that O.J. told Nicole that he would kill her. She shot to fame after the trial, and posed for the March issue of Playboy in 1995. That same year she wrote a book titled Nicole Brown Simpson: A Private Diary of a Life Interrupted about her friendship with the victim. Today, she has made multiple appearances on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and remains friends with Kim's mother, Kris Jenner.
Whether Kim was influenced by her mother's friend's fame — or whether Kris wanted Kim to gain that level of fame — isn't as significant as the fact that people like Faye paved the way for "famous for nothing" celebrities to shoot to stardom. Kim herself had famous pals growing up, including Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kyle Richard's niece, socialite Paris Hilton. Simply being photographed with Paris (who, at the time, was most famous for her sex tape scandal) got Kim on the paparazzi's radar — and gave her celebrity credibility.
Celebrities Lost America's Trust
Prior to the murder case, O.J. Simpson was a beloved former professional athlete who starred in films like The Naked Gun and was the cheery star of Hertz rental car commercials. That all changed with the trial, and it shifted the American view of what a celebrity should, or needed, to be. No longer did celebrities need to be infallible individuals with great talents and an uncrackable demeanor — if O.J. could be hiding such a dark side, then it was possible any celebrity could, as well. The idea of an untouchable celebrity was gone, paving the way for stars with less-than-stellar backgrounds and reputations to rule the media landscape.
Enter Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton's partying buddy and rich girl, famous for nothing but associations. She wasn't a talented actress or singer, or even a model, making her famous for, essentially, nothing. Oddly, this almost worked in Kim's favor — there was no pedestal for her to fall from. When Kim's own sex tape — with singer Ray J, famous mostly for being the brother of actress/singer Brandy — was leaked, it didn't cause public backlash. If anything, the release of Kim's tape made Kim more intriguing. It allowed viewers of her reality show — as well as anyone with access to tabloids and entertainment television — to see what twists and turns this story would take.
It was a pattern taken directly from the O.J. Simpson trial, where people watched with fascination to see just what would play out next in the lives of real people. The stakes were certainly lower, but the mentality remained the same... and it still remains today.