Ron Goldman, murdered 25 years ago at age 25 – ‘He was too young'
Updated: Jun 17, 2019
Writer’s Note: I promise there won’t always be this many Right Turn Alert posts in such quick succession, and I especially promise that the posts won’t always be about dead people. It just so happens that I am writing a series on forgotten victims.
Lauren Bessette and Ron Goldman. Two people that never met in life – Bessette grew up in tony Greenwich, Connecticut, and made her career in New York City and Hong Kong; Goldman grew up outside of Chicago and moved as an 18-year-old to Southern California. She was at the top of her career at Morgan Stanley; he, struggling to find his place in the world as a waiter at Brentwood hotspot Mezzaluna. Both died young, tragically, and unexpectedly, next to wives of extraordinarily famous men – Bessette next to her sister, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, wife of John F. Kennedy Jr., in a plane crash, and Goldman next to Nicole Brown Simpson, wife of O.J. Simpson, stabbed to death in Brown Simpson’s courtyard. We know the stories of Bessette-Kennedy and Brown Simpson, two wives whose husbands made poor decisions that led to their deaths (well, allegedly in the case of Brown Simpson). But we know relatively nothing of Bessette and Goldman, who will mark the twentieth and twenty-fifth anniversaries of their deaths, respectively, this summer.
Take a look this time into the tragically short life of Ron Goldman, who likely died trying to save Brown Simpson’s life.
Ron Goldman, murdered 25 years ago at age 25: ‘He was too young, and he didn’t even put his foot in the door’
By Rachel Burchfield
Ron Goldman, who died at 25 years old 25 years ago today, on June 12, 1994, has now been dead as long as he was alive.
He is the forgotten victim in an unforgettable double murder case that saw American football hero O.J. Simpson be acquitted of the brutal stabbing deaths of Goldman and Goldman’s friend Nicole Brown Simpson, 35 – Simpson’s ex-wife – in his criminal trial in 1995; in the 1997 civil trial, Simpson was found liable and ordered to pay $33.5 million to the Goldman family, of which, to date, he has not fully paid.
Goldman was all of us at 25 – still figuring out who he was, struggling to make ends meet, more concerned with the hottest clothes, clubs, and cars than making a difference in the world. Yet make a difference he did, including in the final, heroic act of his life; his family – mustachioed father Fred and redheaded sister Kim – is convinced that Goldman, in the wrong place at the wrong time on that gloomy June night, was murdered for trying to save the life of Brown Simpson as she was attacked by her ex-husband, wielding a knife and filled to the brim with rage.
Before his vicious murder, Goldman’s claim to fame was his 1992 appearance on the completely forgettable, totally sleazy dating show Studs, where he is introduced as “a 23-year-old tennis pro.” His slicked back brown hair, denim shirt, and jeans rolled up to the calf with high socks and black shoes screams early 1990s; his earring in the left ear, necklace, and cocky, machismo attitude bring the word douchebag to mind. Though it seems as though in real life he wasn’t, he is certainly playing the part on this show, where all we really find out about him is that he doesn’t like to talk on the phone and, if he wins, he’ll take his date to a houseboat on the Colorado River where they will be naked all day and make love all night.
Host Mark DeCarlo asks him at one point how he would rate himself on a scale of one to 10.
“I’m way up here,” Goldman said, holding his hand up at eye level. “There really isn’t a scale for me.”
A closer look at Goldman’s body language and it’s clear that, gorgeous as he is, he’s not fully confident in himself – he keeps darting furtive glances at the other contestant, Anthony, and at DeCarlo for approval. His nonverbals seem to say Am I enough? Am I acting macho enough? Am I playing this part okay? He tries, but as a douchebag, he’s not believable.
The same could be said about his entire experience in Los Angeles, where he relocated to with his family from Illinois after the first semester of his freshman year of college: He tried to be like them – vapid and baseless – but that’s just really not who Ron Goldman was.
Had he lived just 20 more days, Goldman would have been 26. Born July 2, 1968, Ronald Lyle Goldman grew up in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, near Chicago; his parents divorced in 1974 when he was six, and, after a brief time in the care of his mother – now known as Sharon Rufo – he and his younger sister, Kim, were raised by their father, Fred, in a middle class, Jewish household. (Fred later remarried, to Patti Glass, who also brought children into the marriage; the combined family was incredibly close.) It was a relatively normal upbringing, despite an increasingly fractured relationship with his mother. Goldman, ever the kind soul at his core, worked as a camp counselor and helped disabled children; he was a late bloomer who eventually became sought after by women but, as a high schooler, was not a huge hit with the ladies and was shy, skinny, and awkward.
School was never really for Goldman, and after a wild semester at Illinois State University – where he was a Sigma Nu pledge and studied psychology – he dropped out and followed his family to California in 1987. He took some classes at Pierce College in L.A. but never graduated; he told friends he wanted to be an actor and thought appearing on Studs would help in that effort. (He also told friends he’d landed a role on an upcoming Baywatch, a hit show at the time.) He was a tennis pro, as his appearance on the dating show noted; he was also an employment headhunter and a sometime model. His primary source of income was working as a waiter, which he did at the famed Mezzaluna the night he was killed. Before that, he worked at California Pizza Kitchen in Brentwood Gardens; next door to CPK, as it was known, was clothing store Z90049. Owner Barry Zeldes noticed Goldman who, by now – thanks to penchants for surfing, beach volleyball, and rollerblading – had filled out and, by his early twenties, was a head-turner. He hired him to model for Z90049.
“He’s a good-looking guy and people approached him,” Kim Goldman told the Los Angeles Times. “He thought he could use some extra money and he figured there was nothing wrong with taking advantage of his looks.”
His deep experience in the hospitality industry led Goldman to tell friends that he wanted to open a restaurant himself one day in Brentwood, which wouldn’t have a name but rather a symbol – the ankh, an Egyptian religious symbol of eternal life that matched the tattoo on his shoulder.
“My brother was a big-hearted, down-to-earth, hard-working, goal-oriented person who wanted to get married, have a family, and be successful,” Kim Goldman told CNN. “Down the road, he wanted to open a bar.”
But that was a way off.
Right now, at 25, he was still figuring it all out, personally and professionally. He didn’t have a steady girlfriend but had been in love and had his heart broken before. Jacqui Bell and Goldman dated for a year and a half; Goldman wanted to settle down, but she wasn’t ready. She broke up with him in March 1994, right before he met Brown Simpson. She remembered him fondly as warm and affectionate.
“He’d always be there with a rose or have a candlelight dinner laid out on the floor when I got home,” Bell told CNN.
He enjoyed modeling and waiting tables, but he had also earned an Emergency Medical Technician’s license not long before his death; he decided it wasn’t for him. (It didn’t help that he was colorblind, which made EMT work difficult.) One thing that was for him was nightclubbing, which he did with a vengeance – in the see and be seen world of Brentwood, the upscale suburb of L.A. where Goldman lived, worked, and died, if you weren’t on the club scene, you ceased to exist. In addition to clubbing for fun, Goldman hit the nightclubs for work, occasionally working as a promoter at places like Tripp’s, a dance club in nearby Century City, or Renaissance, a club and restaurant in Santa Monica.
He was 25, untethered, and figuring it all out, struggling to find himself and which of his many dreams he wished to pursue to fruition.
“He tended to get into something and then say ‘Oh, well, maybe not,’” Kim Goldman told the L.A. Times. “He was in the process of trying to pinpoint where his niche was. He did a lot of different things, [but] the one thing you could say about him is he’s really good with people. People are just drawn to him.”
His days consisted of sculpting his perfectly toned body at the gym during the day, picking up a shift as a waiter over dinner, and then heading out to a club at night to meet women. He was famously health-conscious and, unlike his L.A. peers of the mid-1990s, not a drinker and not into drugs. He ate clean, too – a real anomaly. He attracted women like flies, both with his dark good looks and his magnetic personality.
“From the minute I came out here, life with Ron was a big rollercoaster ride,” Mike Pincus, who had known Goldman since kindergarten, told the L.A. Times. “You never knew what you would be doing the next day, but you always knew it would be fun.”
He would figure it out one day, he knew for sure – his sister Kim told the L.A. Times that Goldman’s ultimate dream was to marry and have a family of his own.
“Because we grew up with a lot of upheaval, he wanted some stability,” she said. “But he took it one day at a time. He rolled with the punches and he did the best he could with what he had.”
No one can pinpoint exactly when Goldman met the striking, statuesque blonde Brown Simpson, but it was around six weeks before they were both murdered, cut down in the prime of their lives. He was on the verge of figuring himself out at 25; so was she, but at 35. She and NFL legend Simpson had divorced in 1992 after seven years of marriage but were continually in a back-and-forth dance of will they or won’t they reconcile. Shortly before the murders, Brown Simpson had ended any future hopes of reconciliation with Simpson; this was, friends say, likely what sent Simpson over the edge, as, for the first time in the 17 years he had known her, he could no longer control her.
It didn’t help that Brown Simpson was seen around town with Goldman, a hunk by anyone’s standards. They worked out together, went clubbing together, grabbed coffee and the occasional dinner. Goldman was even seen driving Brown Simpson’s white Ferrari with its iconic “L84AD8” license tag and playing with the Simpson children: Sydney, 8, and Justin, 5. They seemed to be doing everything together but sleeping with each other. They were just friends, he told pals; but he did get off when heads turned as he and the stunning Brown Simpson pulled up to nightclubs in her Ferrari.
“He definitely would have told me if he was seeing O.J. Simpson’s ex-wife,” Pincus told the L.A. Times. “That’s just the kind of guy Ron was. Whenever he was dating someone, we all knew about it.”
He told friend Craig Clark, whom he met in 1989 when both were waiters a Malibu hotspot, that he and Brown Simpson were just friends. Friend Jodi Kahn – who also knew Brown Simpson – told the L.A. Times “it was very innocent.”
“It’s part of society to think everyone is sleeping together, and that a man and a woman can’t be friends,” his sister Kim told CNN. For her part, she said, she believed him when he said they were simply platonic.
Barry Zeldes, owner of the clothing store Goldman once modeled for, told Newsweek that Goldman said just being seen with the famous divorcee was raising his stock with women exponentially. Zeldes, a few days before his murder, asked Goldman point blank what was going on with him and Brown Simpson. Were they sleeping together?
“No,” Goldman laughed. “If O.J. caught me with her, he’d probably kill me.”
That Sunday morning, June 12, Goldman went to play baseball on an organized team; a soccer and tennis player in high school, since arriving in California Goldman had gone from gangly to a jack-of-all-trades sportsman whose physical fitness was, in typical California fashion, one of his top concerns.
“He was an inspiration to the team and an inspiration as a person,” one of his baseball teammates told CNN. Another echoed “He was one of the most wonderful, loving, giving, people that I have ever known.”
That night he had a shift at Mezzaluna, the hip Italian restaurant at 11750 San Vicente Boulevard – a main drag in Brentwood – that was just a short walking distance from Goldman’s apartment at 11663 Gorham Avenue and, similarly, a short jaunt from Brown Simpson’s condo at 875 Bundy Drive. All of life in Brentwood ebbed and flowed from San Vicente, where the most popular gyms, restaurants, and shopping was. It was here that Brown Simpson chose to take her family – minus Simpson – to eat dinner after daughter Sydney’s dance recital at the nearby Paul Revere Middle School that afternoon.
Goldman, who knew Brown Simpson, was not their server; it’s restaurant protocol that you typically don’t serve people you know. Goldman and Brown Simpson were there at the same time, though, and as the Brown Simpson party left, her mother, Juditha Brown, dropped her prescription sunglasses near the gutter outside the restaurant; it was a silly, inconsequential mistake that would cost Goldman his life.
Brown Simpson’s mother Juditha called her daughter to let her know she couldn’t find her glasses. Brown Simpson called up to Mezzaluna, and, after a quick search, the glasses were discovered and put in an envelope with her name on it for pickup the next day. Goldman, overhearing what was happening, offered to take the glasses by Brown Simpson’s nearby condo; they were friends, after all. Mezzaluna manager John DeBello told Newsweek he told Goldman that wasn’t necessary – but Goldman insisted.
He punched out at the restaurant at 9:33 p.m., stayed another 15 minutes drinking water at the bar with Mezzaluna bartender Stewart Tanner – whom he had plans to go out with later that night – and left in his uniform, sans tie.
“I’ll see you later,” he yelled to Tanner as he left.
He left Mezzaluna, returned home to his Gorham Avenue place to shower and change out of his work clothes, and, after doing so, set off in a car borrowed from a friend for Brown Simpson’s. He parked the car, walked up to the front entrance of 875 Bundy Drive with the envelope in hand – and, the Goldmans believe, saw a murder in progress. Always known for helping others, they believe that Goldman stepped in to save Brown Simpson’s life and lost his in the process.
“[I believe he] walked into the crime in progress,” Fred Goldman told People. “He could have run. He didn’t. I’d like to say I wish he did, but that wouldn’t have been Ron. I think he attempted to help – and it cost him his life. [This] was one of those acts of decency and kindness that ultimately cost him his life.”
His murder was savage. Any number of his stab wounds could have killed him – he was murdered countless times over. In peak physical shape, he fought tooth and nail for his life, for her life, and was a fierce opponent for his killer; finally, stabbed all over his body and bleeding profusely, he slumped against a tree in the courtyard of Brown Simpson’s condo. The murderer, allegedly Simpson, cut across Goldman’s face to test and see if Goldman was dead; he was. He died with his eyes open, watching his killer walk away and into freedom that continues today.
“I am so proud of him that in his last moments he did something heroic,” Kim Goldman told People.
The bodies were found shortly after midnight on Monday, June 13, 1994.
“You think it’s a bad dream and then you realize that you’re never going to see him again,” Fred Goldman told CNN. “He was a special human being. He didn’t deserve what happened.”
In the 25 years since his death, Goldman has died a second death, becoming, as Fred Goldman so often says, a footnote to his own murder. He is often referred to only as “Nicole’s friend,” and rarely by his name. His heroic act is forgotten, shoved aside for the more bawdy, tawdry story of the Simpsons’ on-again, off-again romance and their wild, opulent life together.
He was a good man, his sister Kim said, and he loved children, teaching them tennis or helping out at a center for kids with cerebral palsy.
“He was very loving,” she told the L.A. Times. “He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
She and her brother were best friends, two peas in a pod, she said.
“I would talk to him all the time, and I just can’t believe he’s not here anymore,” she told CNN. “I would never wish on anybody what has happened to my family. But I wish to God it hadn’t happened to my brother. He was too young, and he didn’t even put his foot in the door.”
“It’s hard to imagine that your flesh and blood, your 25-year-old, had a chance to touch so many people,” Fred Goldman told CNN.
In the 25 years since Goldman’s murder, Fred and Kim have been visible, initially showing up in court every day for both the criminal and civil trials, then fighting against publication of Simpson’s supposed confessional, If I Did It (the Goldmans won the right to the book and its profits as a part of the $33.5 million civil settlement they were never paid), and always the keeper of Ron’s flame, making sure he is remembered and celebrated, championing him even 25 years after his death. They created the Ron Goldman Foundation for Justice in his honor, which provides grants for multiple organizations and programs that provide resources to victims and survivors of violent crimes.
Their son and brother was young, so young, confused and searching and learning and growing, just as all 25-year-olds do. He never got the chance to become the man he intended to be; he would be 50 today, probably married with kids, probably the owner of Ankh, the bar he dreamed of opening in Brentwood. But he just never had the time to realize his dreams – vicious cuts from a sharp knife ended what could have been a promising life, one that already was, despite its brevity, meaningful.
“All the way through his life I had enormous pride for Ron and for the young man he was becoming and all the good things he did for people,” Fred Goldman told People. “[Grieving him is] a journey that doesn’t end. It’s constant. The loss is always there, and the pain is always there.”
© Rachel Burchfield, 2019