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Before He Was Infamous, O.J. Simpson’s Acting Helped Make Him Famous

Before O.J. Simpson became synonymous with the sensational murder trial that riveted the nation in the mid-1990s, he was a football star turned Hollywood fixture who played roles as varied as an astronaut, a comic detective and a fake priest.

His acting career began while he was still a star running back. As Simpson, who died on Wednesday, told it, he was waiting out the best deal he could get in the N.F.L. when producers reached out to him asking if he could act. “Sure, I can try to act,” he replied.

He scored bit parts in a medical series and a western, but the allure of an onscreen career didn’t grab him until his first major film, “The Klansman” (1974), in which he appeared alongside Richard Burton and Lee Marvin, playing a man seeking to avenge his friend’s death at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.

Simpson told Johnny Carson in an interview in 1979 on “The Tonight Show” that during the production, the actors were casually chatting about food when Elizabeth Taylor said the best chili she’d had was at a restaurant called Chasen’s in West Hollywood.

Simpson with Richard Burton in “The Klansman.”Credit…Moviestore Collection Ltd, via Alamy

“Somebody made a call, and in an hour and a half they had a private jet bring a pot of chili from Chasen’s to Oroville, Calif.,” Simpson said in the interview. “Two hours later we’re eating chili and I’m saying, ‘I like this life.’”

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