Friday, October 10, 2008

The Fall Guy

By Scott O Malley

“It's a death-defying life I lead, I'll take my chances. I've died for a living in the movies and TV. But the hardest thing I'll ever do is watch my leading ladies, Kiss some other guy while I'm bandaging my knee.

I might fall from a tall building, I might roll a brand-new car, 'Cause I'm the unknown stuntman that made Redford such a star.”

The end always seems to come quietly for daredevils. Reputations precede those who’ve cheated death or tempted fate, and each escape seems to leave an open-ended promise to one day go out in a heap of twisted metal. It rarely happens though. More times than not, the prewritten obituary stays in the drawer. Laments that “he had it coming” are replaced with pity and vague embarrassment, as the subject is felled by the innocuous. No one fulfilled this sad dichotomy as Dar Robinson did.

Generally regarded as the movie industry’s foremost stunt performer, Robinson enjoyed an illustrious career, on-and-off camera. Between taking bumps for the likes of Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, and Burt Reynolds, Robinson was an innovator of stunt and safety equipment, and the holder of more than thirty World Records. He drove off the Grand Canyon, leapt twelve hundred feet from the CN Tower, and escaped it all without so much as a broken bone. The bar was set impossibly high for Robinson’s death to match the theatrics of his life. The end came for him in the desert, on the set of a z-grade movie-of-the-week, when he lost control of a small motorbike. Hours away from medical attention, Robinson lost consciousness in the back of a station wagon, and without spectacle he was gone.

The last time I addressed O.J. Simpson, I likened him to a kind of macabre circus freak, and it would appear now that my favorite carny has gone and stuck his head in the crocodile’s mouth once too often. As a consolation prize thirteen years in the making, he is headed to prison indefinitely. Without delving too deeply into my perverse fascination with the Misadventures of O.J., I’m disappointed in him. That is, of course, if his Vegas Vacation proves to be his swan song. I’d hoped for so much better.

O.J.’s latest fiasco has proven that the American public has yet to grasp what makes him tick. Prevailing wisdom suggests that O.J. should have spent these past thirteen years in seclusion, counting his blessings in exile. This reasoning may be sound, but it’s not O.J., who’s nothing if not brazen. More inept are the legions of armchair psychologists in this post-Tony Soprano world, who’ve seen fit to misdiagnose him as a sociopath (conversely, basic-cable viewers have become experts in forensic science). The fact is it’s never been enough for O.J. to simply accumulate untouchable wealth in his Florida enclave, and emerge every so often to thumb his nose at Fred Goldman. People forget, the Juice was the same mischief-loving scamp before June 1994 – it just so happened that none of his hijinks had yet been associated with double-murder.

O.J. has been betting with house money too long to just cash in and go home. That said, he got greedy and careless when he entered that hotel room with his armed stooges. The slippery ones sometimes mistake their good fortune for invincibility. The possibility of a setup has been floated about, and while likely, is ultimately irrelevant. A marked man if there’s ever been one, he left himself open. The American Justice system does not like to have its nose rubbed in defeat, and they just might have a long memory about that time you had the pleasure of beating their balls off. Trap or no trap, he got caught fair and square this time – and he had to know if he ever stood as a defendant in court again, he’d be up against prosecutors with a no-mistakes mandate, and a jury that’d been sharpening their knives since his acquittal. Oddly enough, he had more wiggle room when there were two dead bodies in question.

The relative lack of attention towards his latest ordeal was merciful in that we were spared another long, ugly bout of racial theater. The racial component of his first trial was misunderstood, and therefore almost universally misrepresented. This time there was no racial component. O.J. exists now with no cultural affiliation – not only did his new trial fail to shock or galvanize, it barely registered with the general public. As the ultimate gauge of disinterest, the 2008 O.J. can’t even elicit the outrage of lordly white folks who once liked him because he was articulate, jovial, and just the right shade of caramel.

Few people came away clean from the Trial of the Century. It was painful and divisive, and anyone who truly paid attention came away having learned things they wish they hadn’t. However, the controversy and sensationalism obscured what should be forever recognized as an extraordinary effort by his defense team. In that respect, it’s a shame that O.J. has squandered the freedom that so many people worked to preserve. Always a fan of biblical allegories, Johnnie Cochran was derided when he compared O.J. versus The State to David versus Goliath. But he wasn’t far off. It was popular but fallacious to see the defense as some bloated, conniving bully, and poor little Marcia Clark as the forlorn crusader. The enormous financial resources of O.J. and his Dream Team still paled in comparison to those at the disposal of The State. Having inherited the Menendez Brothers debacle and one political catastrophe after another, failure was not an option for first-term District Attorney Gil Garcetti. California’s pockets were not deep when it came to convicting O.J. Simpson, they were bottomless.

True to form though, O.J. has steamrolled everyone (living or dead) who’s ever thrown him a life preserver. Perhaps it’s a blessing then, that no one was left this time to come to his aid. Cochran of course has passed, and hopefully rests unaware of what became of his Herculean effort, of what O.J. chose to do with his Golden Ticket. And say what you might about friend/lapdog/crimey Bob Kardashian, but he was there to stick his neck out when his old tennis buddy needed him. Nor is there anybody left to make sense of him. Gone too are Ralph Wiley and Dennis Schatzman, two men who were spit-roasted for having the temerity to speak above the din of stupidity.

It can’t end this way. It just can’t. I’m in the minority, I’m sure, but it will be to my profound disappointment if this is the last we hear from Orenthal James Simpson. I’ll be let down, much the way his old admirers were let down in 1994. I’m too young to remember O.J. Simpson the football player. My cherished memories of him are not touchdown runs and Hall of Fame inductions, but slow-speed chases and courtroom proceedings. I don’t love O.J. the Heisman Trophy winner. I love O.J. the smug, clueless bon vivant. O.J. the snow-fiend. O.J. the hapless aficionado of Nordic blonde women.

The fuse has been lit for too long to be snuffed out with no fanfare, and his growing recklessness has served only to ratchet-up the suspense. But deep down it’s always been my fear that he’d go quietly, before he finally gives us a glimpse of what he knows, before he becomes unglued and reveals the twisted secrets that will turn us all to dust. I’m afraid now that the truth will die with him if another Christopher Scarver comes along and writes himself into history. There’s hope still for a proper send-off, if the judge doesn’t throw the book at him. Prison will not take away the madness that makes him O.J. - he has already descended. And should he ever enjoy life again as a free man, rest assured that he will circle the launching ramp once more, poised for another death-defying leap.


Red said...

Honestly, if I never heard the name OJ Simpson again, I really wouldn't care.

That said, nice post.

KS said...

Mr O'Malley does it again!

Related required reading:

Anonymous said...

If OJ was stitched up, maybe shills are still being paid to write things to trash his reputation.

telfer cronos