Varied reactions to OJ Simpson’s death reflect a complicated life

<span>OJ Simpson attends a parole hearing in Lovelock, Nevada, on 20 July 2017.</span><span>Photograph: Jason Bean/Pool via Getty Images</span>
OJ Simpson attends a parole hearing in Lovelock, Nevada, on 20 July 2017.Photograph: Jason Bean/Pool via Getty Images

OJ Simpson has died at the age of 76 and the words of remembrance people have been sharing reflect his complicated, infamous life.

Usually the death of a celebrity prompts a flood of similar-sounding tributes, remembering the highlights of their lives and keeping a respectful distance on any of the lower moments and controversies.

But for Simpson, that was never going to be the case.

The news that Simpson, the former top American football player who was acquitted of the double murders of his ex-wife and her friend in 1994, had died of cancer sparked an immediate and widespread response. Few of them – aside from his immediate family – were conventionally mourning his passing.

Related: OJ Simpson’s life from NFL stardom to legal jeopardy – in pictures

In a post on X, Simpson’s family described his death.

“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,” his family wrote.

Most others were not so simple. Simpson’s 1994 trial involving the fatal stabbings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman was memorably dubbed the “trial of the century” as it became a national spectacle of celebrity and crime while exposing the US’s racial divides. Simpson, a Black man, was eventually found not guilty but was found liable three years later in a civil lawsuit from the victims’ families, both white.

In response to his death, Goldman’s family said Simpson “died without penance”.

Meanwhile, Caitlyn Jenner tweeted, “Good Riddance #OJSimpson.” The former Olympic athlete was previously married to Kris Jenner, the ex-wife of Rob Kardashian Sr, the late American attorney who was part of Simpson’s high-profile defense team.

Feminist and LGBTQ+ activist Charlotte Clymer wrote: “His murder trial marks a pivotal moment in the decline of American broadcast news. It accelerated in our media environment an unapologetic centering of flash over substance, spin over good faith, and provocation over consideration.

“It permanently damaged broadcast news in ways from which it has never recovered, nor have we,” she added.

The Guardian opinion columnist Moira Donegan wrote: “Domestic violence is a kind of small-scale terrorism. What OJ Simpson did to Nicole Brown Simpson was not the event of one night – it was a years long campaign that thousands of women suffer at other men’s hands.”

Meanwhile, Jemele Hill, a contributing writer for the Atlantic, wrote on X, “I’m sure people on this app will be very responsible with the news that OJ Simpson has died” – a reference to Simpson’s impact on race relations in the US and how improperly people handle this type of discourse on social media.

Despite Hill’s tweet, Simpson’s death was still met with a handful of internet jokes, with one user tweeting, “OJ Simpson finally brought the killer to justice.”