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Remembering OJ Simpson's father & his little known queer history

Remembering OJ Simpson's father & his little known queer history

football legend accused killer OJ Simpson queer father drag queen Jimmy Lee
via ESPN Films

Jimmy Lee Simpson was the gay father OJ kept secret.

O.J. Simpson, who died today, made headlines throughout his life but had a gay father whom he kept a secret from the public.

Simpson, the former football great-turned-actor who was acquitted in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, died of cancer at 76, his family confirmed on Thursday.

His family announced his death on X, writing, "On April 10th, our father, Orenthal James Simpson, succumbed to his battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his children and grandchildren. During this time of transition, his family asks that you please respect their wishes for privacy and grace."

In 2016, the ESPN docuseries O.J.: Made in America explored Simpson's life , detailing the horrible abuse he put his ex-wife through during their marriage and how his father's sexuality may have played a role.

"Calvin [Tennyson] was my first interview for the movie, it was back in October of 2014," director Ezra Edelman said in an interview with Business Insider. "I didn't know that he knew [O.J.'s father was gay], it wasn't something O.J. talked about. But he brought it up and told a story about [O.J.'s] father very organically."

In the five-part series, we learn that Simpson's father, Jimmy Lee Simpson, left the family when Simpson was only four years old. Tennyson, one of Simpson's childhood friends, talked about the first time he learned Jimmy Lee was gay.

"One day we went over to his dad's house, and we knocked on the door," Tennyson said. "And when his dad opened the door, he was in a bathrobe, which is not a crime. But then his dad kind of opened the door more, and there was a guy in the back in a bathrobe too. So it was obvious that his dad was gay."

According to Bustle, two books—George Carpozi Jr.'s The Lies of O.J. Simpson and Jeffrey Toobin's The Run of His Life—allege that Jimmy Lee was also a drag queen who became a fixture of the drag scene in San Francisco after he separated from Simpson's mother, Eunice.

Simpson never talked about his father being gay, and in the second part of Made in America, one of his friends said that Simpson "freaked out" at Nicole Brown Simpson when she let their son sit next to a gay man at a restaurant. The friend said he received a phone call the following day telling him that Simpson beat Nicole that night after the incident at the restaurant.

Jimmy Lee died in 1985. His obituary listed his cause of death as cancer, but Toobin wrote in his book that he died of complications from AIDS.

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Ariel Messman-Rucker

Ariel Messman-Rucker is an Oakland-born journalist who now calls the Pacific Northwest her home. When she’s not writing about politics and queer pop culture, she can be found reading, hiking, or talking about horror movies with the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network.

Ariel Messman-Rucker is an Oakland-born journalist who now calls the Pacific Northwest her home. When she’s not writing about politics and queer pop culture, she can be found reading, hiking, or talking about horror movies with the Zombie Grrlz Horror Podcast Network.