Almost 22 years ago, 95 million Americans stopped what they were doing to watch as suspected murderer O.J. Simpson appeared to flee justice in a white Ford Bronco, with his friend A.C. Cowlings at the wheel. The infamous slow-speed chase that ensued aired live on TV, preempting most scheduled programming and kicking off the beginning of a morbid courtroom obsession. In light of the The People v. O.J. Simpson’s second episode, which showcased its own version of the pursuit last night (read our backstory here), we asked Cuba Gooding Jr., Selma Blair, David Schwimmer, and more to recall their memories from summer ‘94.
Cuba Gooding Jr.
[I was] at a buddy’s, watching the finals — the Knicks game. I keep saying this, but I do remember, at some point, the game was on the radio and we were watching the chase on television. It started as us watching on TV, and then we switched to the radio. We were sure we were going to watch that muzzle blast, or a sniper take him out in the back of the Bronco, and the car would swerve into oncoming traffic … If you think about it today, if anything like that were to happen, they’d put the spikes out, blow the tires, then all of a sudden they’d be on the rims, and then, finally, the Bronco would have to come to a stop. Then they would negotiate. No, they didn’t want him to feel pressure. The fact that Al Cowlings was cussing at the cops and they were like, “Okay, cool, we’ll do what you want us to do.” It was crazy.
If my recollection is correct, I was watching an NBA basketball game on TV. I think it was a New York Knicks game … because I remember Patrick Ewing looking up at the Jumbotron. The word was starting to spread … even at the mecca of basketball. “O.J. was on the run.” And I think a feed of the Bronco chase was being shown at Madison Square Garden. I had just recently bought O.J. drinks at a club on Sunset, where I met Nicole Simpson for the first time. So this moment was bizarre and complicated for me to process. I know this sounds cliché, but the chase was like a dream. To this day, it still feels like a dream. In my mind, it was that nice man O.J., from the gridiron, who runs through airports in the rental-car commercials. I just saw O.J.! And Nicole! I also remember thinking, Why are they in a Ford Bronco?!
A buddy of mine called me and told me to turn on the TV. I did, and I watched. I couldn’t believe it, like everyone else, catching up to it and watching it for quite a while. It was unlike anything I’d experienced before, and many people had experienced before. You were watching in real time the fall of an icon. It had the air about it of myth, of a Greek tragedy. This great hero and icon falling, and you were watching it unfold in real time. And that was very, very troubling.
I was performing that night at Second City in Chicago. The highway chase was happening as we were doing the show. My specific memory of it is watching in the wings with a couple cast members while a sketch we weren’t in was happening onstage. I can’t remember how word got to us to turn on the news, but normally, we did not have a TV on backstage during shows. (This is also back in the olden days, before tons of cable channels, internet, and smartphones.) In that particular moment, watching it unfold on TV as we were doing a live show, and trying to focus on watching this police chase while also getting ready to go onstage in a few minutes, it was mostly just strange. I don’t recall having any specific sense of what might happen, I was more going through a list of outcomes: Is he going to shoot himself? What are they talking about? Are they going to run out of gas? Cops going to shoot out the tires? And then he ends up home. Very strange, tragic, and sad.
I was just a kid when all the O.J. stuff happened. The biggest thing I realize now is how limited our media options were at the time. When the Bronco chase started, I was watching the NBA finals with my family. I think they then put the chase in a little box on the same screen for a while, and then cut back and forth for the rest of the game. Can you imagine that happening now? Not only would we have 50 channels broadcasting the chase, we would have instantly had thousands of O.J. pieces written, and tens of millions of reactions on social media. Our obsessions can get so much deeper and crazier now. Consider how many think pieces were written about Steven Avery from Making a Murderer — and he didn’t win any Heisman trophies or star in any spoof movies with Leslie Nielsen. I guess what I’m saying is: I’m glad we didn’t have all that stuff in 1994, or I might still be reading O.J. articles on the internet 20 years later, never having gotten a job or talked to another person ever again.
I was home, in my bedroom, folding clothes, and my mom called me and said, “You gotta turn on your TV.” When I look back, that was our first real reality TV. I remember turning on the TV and just watching the chase all day and wondering, Where are they going? They’re not driving fast enough to be trying to get away from here, so they must be trying to buy time for something. And like everyone else, I was glued to the television wondering how this was going to pan out. Was this man going to shoot himself? Or are these cops going to shoot into the truck? They weren’t driving fast enough for it to be a chase, and it wasn’t like A.C. was driving erratically causing accidents. It was just interesting, the time they took letting it unfold.
I was in an airplane through the whole Bronco chase, and it was announced [that] O.J. was in custody when I landed, along with the NBA finals score. I had worked with O.J. five weeks earlier on Frogmen — the infamous pilot that never aired. I spent three weeks with him in Los Angeles and Puerto Rico. So the initial announcement of the murders was one thing to me, because I thought, Poor O.J., I know he wanted to get back together with her, and then realized there was a much more horrific bent to the story. And then, through the whole trial — to me — saw the preponderance of evidence of his guilt but the inability to convict because of the very real concerns the defense team exposed: Was there police and prosecutorial misconduct?
I remember Jon Stewart saying that 9/11 taught people how to watch news 24 hours [a day], and I feel like the O.J. trial was the best way to teach a 15-year-old like myself, at the time, about the American judicial system. It was a weird way to learn about being charged and prosecuted for a crime. The sad part about it was what was lost in [the Bronco chase] was that two people were murdered. It became entertainment. My visceral memory of [the chase specifically] is that that part was much more of a high-suspense TV show — I think that’s relevant to say my memory has a cache in an entertainment folder, more than in a legal folder or a criminal folder.
You had the police, you had a fugitive, and then you had the media. And the media seemed like the main player in terms of how many helicopters they had or how many reporters were on this case. The word circus comes to mind. It just seemed like a weird stage play, like some kind of theater we were all engaging in. As a 15-, 16-year-old, I never registered what was really going on. It was some sort of crazy art installation, but it was so raw when you saw O.J. Simpson in the Bronco on live television and you didn’t know how this story ended. Since then, I think it’s informed a lot of live TV.
I remember I was sitting in my tiny little apartment that was around the corner from Nicole Brown Simpson’s condo — I lived on Gretna Green, and she was on Bundy. I remember thinking, Is he gonna kill himself? I don’t know why. I was by myself, I had just moved to L.A., I didn’t know anybody. I just thought, He did it. Is he gonna kill himself?
When all this went down, I was 9 years old. I distinctively remember my grandmother and mother watching the news and talking about this famous black athlete who was on the run. At that point no one knew what he was running away from, but by the looks on their faces, he was running away from something really bad. I also heard them say he had turned his back on black folks by marrying some lily-white woman. At that point, no one knew he was going to be accused of stabbing her to death. I was surrounded by opinionated single black women. My grandmother, my mother, my aunt, and our neighbor (who always had a lot to say about other people’s business). As an opinionated-single-black-woman-in-training, I studied them as they studied the TV screen.
It was the first time I realized what a celebrity was. The guy I saw running through the airport in commercials was now running from the police. And the black woman’s chorus quickly went from, “Why is he running?” to, “Why are the police chasing that innocent black man?” and, “Why they always messing with us?” Little did I know, that would be the dialogue in my house for the next year and a half. I just thought he would get arrested, go to court, and he would either go to jail or go free. I figured it would all be resolved fairly quickly.
I was drinking beers on my front porch in Wilmington, North Carolina, when my redneck neighbor ran over and said, “Turn on your tee-vee! O.J. runnin’ from the law! Super slow-like! He’s in a heap of trouble, Gary!” And I was all like, “I’m Bobby, but doooo what?” Then I watched it with my roommate for what seemed like an hour. I thought O.J. was going to shoot himself when he realized all the cops and helicopters were around him. Then I thought he was going to head for the border … as in Taco Bell. He and his riding mate must’ve been hungry! What a long chase that was!
I was in high school, and I was here during the L.A. riots. Nicole Brown Simpson went to my rival high school, so it was very much a local story in South Orange County and Los Angeles. My mother watched the trial every single day. It was a soap opera; that’s how it felt. [The car chase] was on a Friday, and they shut down the 405 freeway — that’s a big deal, to shut down the 405 freeway on a Friday. The world was watching. It was insane that we were watching this slow car chase, but really, car chases were always televised in Los Angeles, so we were kind of used to that. But when we found out it was O.J. Simpson, it became national.
People were coming out in droves over the overhang of the freeway, and they were cheering and booing. People were wondering, Where is he going? Up in L.A., we knew he was going back to Brentwood because that’s the freeway that leads to Brentwood. It took all afternoon. By the time I had gotten home, it was all over the place, and it stayed on into the night. We didn’t quite know what was going on. We didn’t quite know that O.J. was a suspect. All we knew was that O.J. Simpson was threatening his life, and his wife had just died a few days earlier, and that he was running. It was also a slow-speed chase. They were going about 30 miles per hour. It wasn’t this exciting thing, so all it was was these pundits talking and trying to understand what’s going on. We have information now that he had a bag of cash, a mustache, his passport, a gun, pictures of his children, but we didn’t know all that that day. So it was just like, What is going on?
I was a basketball-obsessed 11-year-old in Minnesota. It was game five of the NBA finals, between the Houston Rockets and the New York Knicks, and I was watching on my family’s “good TV” in the living room. Nearby, in the dining room, my parents were hosting a dinner party with their friends from synagogue. At some point, the game was interrupted with breaking news that O.J. Simpson was in the back of a Bronco with a gun to his head. Suddenly, all the adults in the house stormed into the living room to see what all the excitement was about. My dad took the remote control from me and changed the channel from NBC to CNN. I found this upsetting because I couldn’t understand why anyone would rather watch helicopter footage of a slow-moving car over a pivotal tie-breaking NBA finals game.
Both my parents were lawyers at the time, my dad a violent-crimes prosecutor. I remember a lot of discussion in our household about how obvious it was that O.J. was guilty of murder, and how the prosecution was incompetent and completely bungling the case against him. One of my most vivid moments from junior-high school was being in the locker room for the O.J. verdict. A majority of the kids in my gym class were black, and when it was announced that O.J. had been found not guilty, there was a huge ovation. Everyone was cheering, and I just remember desperately trying to blend in. I kept high-fiving everyone around me and yelling, “We did it!”
It cut away from the NBA finals, where my beloved New York Knicks were taking on the Houston Rockets in Game 5. It is not an exaggeration to say that I lost my mind. I was furious. The last thing I wanted to see was a white truck driving around. Actually the last thing I wanted to see was John Starks going like 2–13 from three. But the Bronco was pretty bad, too. I was watching on a small TV in the house I grew up in, in West Orange, New Jersey. [Michael] Jordan was finally out of the league. [Patrick] Ewing finally had the chance to lead us to his and our destiny. But goddamn Hakeem [Olajuwon] was standing in the way. I was so, so mad. I didn’t get to see the finals, and eventually, the Knicks lost anyway. As for the Simpson case itself, I had almost no feelings on it beyond the morbid curiosity a high-school sophomore would be expected to have.
I was performing in a show as a singer, with [actor] Corey Reynolds and [jazz musician] Nate Smith, and we were in between sets. We all were glued to the TV in the green room, and we were watching it in disbelief. It was hard to go back out onstage because it was riveting to watch, not knowing the outcome. I remember thinking it was so sad. He was a beloved athlete and celebrity, and it was hard to see. Such a raw situation. When the Bronco chase happened, I actually thought it was him driving. Logic said if he was running, it pointed toward guilt. That was my initial feeling. But with the reputation of the LAPD at the time, and the different things that came out during the trial, I kept going back and forth on what I thought.
My friend Matt lived around the corner from a terrible sports bar on Lansdowne Street in Boston. We were definitely drinking, and possibly watching the NBA finals. I don’t think it was immediately clear that O.J. was involved in the crime, and he was still being portrayed as a beloved sports legend despondent about the loss of his wife — even though he was asked to turn himself in to police that day when he went on the run. While the chase was happening, we were drinking and being pretty glib. We talked about Billy Dee Williams being a good choice to play O.J. in what we were sure was going to end up being a Lifetime movie of the week.
I worked a shitty job at a big Boston law firm then, which made for a strange vantage point for the whole thing. It was like the Super Bowl for lawyers, and all anyone discussed. In the days afterward, one comedic thing stands out: A 911 phone call leaked between the getaway driver of the Bronco, O.J.’s friend, teammate, NFL linebacker A.C. Cowlings. During the chase, the operator on the call repeatedly pressed him about who he was exactly, and he finally exploded: “It’s A.C., dammit! You know who this is!” O.J. was famous. Pretty sure A.C. was offended he wasn’t better known.
I was at home in Orlando watching the Knicks, and boom! This was during my time on The All New Mickey Mouse Club in Orlando, at MGM Studios. All through the following week the news was still running footage of the Bronco chase. We would all huddle around the TVs in our dressing rooms in between shots to get updates. (During the trial as well.) I, like many African-Americans, wasn’t initially convinced he was guilty. Nor was I particularly surprised by the ensuing racial issues becoming more relevant to the trial.
For many African-Americans, myself included, the police were more suspect than the defendant ahead of the trial. It was easier to believe they were targeting O.J. than it was to believe he could or would do this to the mother of his children. When the Mark Fuhrman tapes came out, it just confirmed what many of us already knew about what the police were capable of. As the case went on, I certainly vacillated in my opinions like many people — a lot of the evidence was compelling.
I remember this frequently: I was visiting family out of town with my brother, and we were watching the Knicks’ NBA finals game. When they cut out of the basketball game to cover the chase, a lady in the room with us began loudly screaming repeatedly: “This is crazy! This is so crazy! Oh, this is crazy!” — over and over for what felt like an hour straight. Surely it was crazy … and so were people’s reactions. My art teacher in school reluctantly let us listen to the verdict live on the radio. Very cool, man. Shout out to Mr. Buckley. He was not at all surprised by the “not guilty” verdict. I was. I still kind of am.
I grew up in L.A., where televised freeway chases were a weekly event. I didn’t think much of them. I was only ever annoyed when they interrupted The Simpsons to show one. I was in Chicago filming Miracle on 34th Street at the time, and I do remember thinking that if I was hearing about it 1,000 miles away, it must have been a big deal. I had no idea who O.J. Simpson was — I was only 6, and we were not a football family; even on Thanksgiving we watched Twilight Zone marathons — but suddenly his name was everywhere.
It became a joke way too quickly. In my hometown (mostly lower-middle-class white, Latino, and Asian), we seemed not to think of the racial implications, just of the media circus. People in L.A. had bumper stickers that said, “I saw the White Bronco,” and kids dressed up as Marcia Clark and Johnnie Cochran for Halloween. My father worked as an engineer at the local cable affiliate that covered the trial, and my 2-year-old sister would point at the logo on his sweatshirt and say, “Sim-sim trial!”
The day the verdict was delivered I was on the set of Matilda, and all the kids crowded around our studio teacher’s portable television. I remember coming in thinking he was guilty, but then seeing the look on his face and changing my mind. He looked sad, and I felt sorry for him, so I figured he was innocent. No one told me that’s not how justice works.
It was my big sister Hillary’s birthday party, and the car chase happened when the parents were dropping their kids off at our house. They wouldn’t leave because they were glued to the TV, and my sister was upset because it was stealing the spotlight from her birthday party. We all wanted the parents to leave so we could get back to having our sleepover, or whatever the party was. It was a literal “party pooper” situation.
We had no idea what was going to happen. To us, it was just about when the parents would leave. We thought that this super-slow car chase might last all night, and that the whole party would be ruined by boring parents staring at the TV all night. My sister was probably about 10, and I was maybe 7. We had more important things going on: Like, when could we sneak out and get a midnight snack if the parents were still there at midnight?
I was in my hometown of Nashville, at my favorite fern bar, O’Charley’s, catching up with some high-school friends. We were eating chicken fingers and fries. The chase was broadcast on all the televisions in the bar. It was surreal. Everyone in the bar was mesmerized and couldn’t stop watching. Also, one of my high-school friends had a red Bronco at the time, and I couldn’t believe that O.J. would drive the same car as one of my high-school friends. Wasn’t he rich? I also remember that outside of an episode of CHiPs, I hadn’t seen a car chase like that. I had to leave the restaurant before the chase ended. Bummer!
Initially, I felt sorry for O.J., thinking, You’re just throwing your Hertz Rent-a-Car contract out the door like that? But quickly I became very angry with him creating a sideshow surrounding his wife’s brutal murder. I was a bit more naïve as to how the justice system worked, but (you’ve seen Making a Murderer) at this point, I have been to law school, worked on death-penalty appeal cases, and realize how flawed the system can be. And one thing that really affected me was the realization that domestic-abuse victims are rarely ever heard. I was always so sad for Nicole Simpson.
[The chase] interrupted a basketball game. I was living in Seattle, shooting Northern Exposure, and I just was — I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I think I was by myself. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t believe it. It just took the wind out of my sails. I was a big fan of O.J. I couldn’t reconcile the fact that he was running. Then I watched the case religiously.
We had a little TV, and everyone in my family was huddled around it, watching the white Bronco flee down the freeway, as though it were a movie. My parents were divorcing, and this was the last thing I remember us all watching together. I remember pulling at my mom’s sleeve and poking her over and over: “What’s a multiple personality? Why does he want to see his mom so bad? Why is his name like an orange juice?”
I was in fourth grade and did not know who O.J. was, but I remember watching that Bronco speeding down the highway, listening to the announcer say he wanted to call his mother, his friend crying, saying people loved him, even though I didn’t know or understand what was happening. I remember wondering if he was a “good guy” or a “bad guy.” If he was a “good guy,” why was he running? If he was a “bad guy,” why was he running? I remember wanting him to get away. I didn’t know who he was or what was what, but I felt this urgency, just watching the car — it was such a strong visual, this white Bronco, just fleeing on the freeway. I didn’t know him, but I felt scared for him. I had no understanding of the racial, political, and economic implications of the case — I was a fourth-grader in rural Maine — but I wanted this O.J. character to get to his mother’s house.