In Los Angeles, the O.J. Simpson Case Defined a Turbulent Era

It would become an indelible memory for those who could not help but watch and watch and watch: a white Ford Bronco steadily traveling along the cleared freeways of Southern California, a trail of police cars not far behind.

Its passenger, of course, was O.J. Simpson, and the two-hour chase on June 17, 1994, that interrupted regular programming transfixed a nation.

“I watched it until it ended. I wasn’t getting off the TV. Who was getting off the TV on a chase like that?” said Richard Smith, 67, who gathered that day with his family to see it all unfold on television in their South Los Angeles apartment.

The saga of Mr. Simpson, from the chase to the criminal trial to the aftermath, would be followed, debated and dissected closely by millions, etching itself into Los Angeles history and thrusting the city into what seemed the center of the universe.

On Thursday, as news spread of Mr. Simpson’s death at 76 from cancer, many residents were forced to reminisce about events that felt distinctly personal, touching on issues of race and celebrity that had long hit close to home in Southern California. And the case had played out on their home turf only a handful of years after the Rodney King beating and the Los Angeles riots.

Mr. Simpson, at the time, was seen as someone who had transcended the tense and deadly relationship other Black Angelenos had with law enforcement. Soaring above his impoverished beginnings, he had carved out an international show business career and lived in the affluent enclave of Brentwood.

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