Nicole Brown Simpson's sisters want you to remember how she lived, not how she died

The sisters of Nicole Brown Simpson hope a new documentary on her life will explore how she lived, and not just how she died

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

In the familiar images that circulated after her June 1994 death, Nicole Brown Simpson appears frozen in place.

She's a statuesque blonde with a tense smile, silently escorting famous husband O.J. Simpson. She's the breezy California beauty behind the wheel of her white Ferrari. And she's the somber woman, with telling bruises and a black eye, in the stark Polaroids locked away in a bank vault.

Thirty years later, Nicole's three sisters want her remembered for more than those static images or the violent way she died. They fear the vibrant person they knew has been lost in the chaos of Simpson's murder trial, the questions it raised about race in America and the headlines spawned by his recent death.

"It's seeing her move. It's hearing her talk, seeing her," youngest sister Tanya Brown told The Associated Press of the joy she felt watching video clips of Nicole in a new Lifetime documentary. "(She's) someone who just was very warm, very warm-hearted and quirky."

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This story includes discussion of suicide and domestic violence. If you or someone you know needs help, the national suicide and crisis lifeline in the U.S. is available by calling or texting 988. There is also an online chat at 988lifeline.org. For the National Domestic Violence Hotline, please call 1-800-799-7233 in the U.S.

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“Daddy’s taking movies again,” coos Nicole, who met Simpson when she was 18, as she cuddles her infant child on the beach. The home movie included in “The Life & Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson,” which airs this weekend, echoes one of her as a child with her own mother.

“She wanted to be like her mother,” said Melissa G. Moore, the executive producer. “Nicole wanted to be home, being a mother and creating a beautiful home.”

The innocence of the mother-and-child beach scene contrasts with friends’ memories of a cloud descending over the couple’s Laguna Beach home whenever Simpson arrived and another of him knocking her down in the water.

“Nicole was a very, very good hider of her domestic violence. She pushed everything under the rug and then would change the subject. And I think that was just all to protect herself and to protect everyone that she loved and her family,” Dominique Brown told the AP in a recent interview with her sisters.

Along with the Browns, the filmmakers spoke to friends both famous and infamous, including Simpson houseguest Brian "Kato" Kaelin, whose laid-back demeanor on the witness stand at the 1995 trial made him a household name; Faye Resnick, who wrote a tell-all book; and Kris Jenner, whose ex-husband Robert Kardashian, to her dismay, joined Simpson's defense team.

Nicole’s two children, who have stayed out of the public eye and seemingly remained close to Simpson until his death last month, did not take part. They were both busy starting families of their own, Moore said.

But the sisters felt it was finally time to revisit Nicole's life and legacy. They have grieved in different ways, and sometimes grew apart. Their parents have died.

Oldest sister Denise Brown, who gave wrenching trial testimony, never hesitated to pin the stabbing deaths of their sister and Ronald Goldman on Simpson, and became a vocal advocate for domestic violence victims. Although she had known the marriage was volatile, she did not think of Nicole at the time as a battered woman, even after Simpson was charged with assault on New Year's Eve 1989. Nicole, after a week away, chose to return home afterward.

“She said, ‘I don’t want to ruin my children’s father’s life,’” Denise Brown recalled to the AP.

Dominique Brown focused on the couple's young children, Sydney and Justin, after Nicole's death. For more than a year, as Simpson sat in jail, she helped her aging parents raise them, along with her own son. Simpson won back custody after he was acquitted, later moving his children to Florida. Dominique said she remains close with the children today — and still doesn't know quite what to think.

“There are kids involved. And they don’t have their mother. I knew that somebody was to blame and I knew that somehow there was involvement. I didn’t know to what extent,” Dominique Brown says in the film, explaining why she refrained from commenting on Simpson's alleged role during the trial. “I still don’t know.”

Tanya Brown, a decade younger than Nicole, has felt waves of guilt over Nicole's death. At the 10-year mark, she tried to take her own life. In treatment, she thought: “She had a perfect opportunity to share something with me, to share her tumultuous relationship, you know? And she never did.”

All three believe that Nicole, like many victims, downplayed the abuse. She had always wanted the kind of happy family life her parents had provided them.

They had met in Germany, then built an affluent life for their girls in southern California. Nicole, a homecoming princess, was interested in photography. She enrolled in community college, but met Simpson in 1977 at a club where she worked. He was a 30-year-old NFL superstar and married father.

A childhood friend, David LeBon, remembers Nicole coming home from their first date in a Rolls Royce, with the zipper of her pants ripped. He wanted to confront Simpson.

“She said, ‘No, don’t. I really like him,’” LeBon recalls in the documentary.

They made a glamorous couple, and Simpson found more fame as an actor and TV pitchman. Nicole loved hosting people at his Los Angeles mansion, where they married in 1985. But those good times were interrupted by bouts of violence, according to the photos and diaries Nicole hid in a safe deposit box, and the repeated 911 calls she made seeking help, especially after they separated in the early 1990s.

And while they both had big personalities, the documentary makes clear how Simpson came to control her. Early on, he became angry when she kissed a male friend on the cheek at one of his Buffalo Bills games. He wanted all her attention when he returned home from a trip. He derided her for getting “fat” during her pregnancies and wanted her to avoid vaginal deliveries and nursing to keep her body intact.

“He had turned her into the perfect wife, and that’s what he expected of her,” Resnick says in the film.

At the time, domestic violence was largely deemed a private matter. Nicole's death helped bring it out of the shadows.

“The family saw some of this stuff, but they didn’t have a name for it,” said Patti Giggans, a nonprofit director in Los Angeles who has worked on domestic violence since the 1970s, and spoke frequently on it during Simpson's trial. “They were pretty helpless.”

Not long after Nicole died, then-Sen. Joe Biden invited Denise Brown to Washington to lobby support for the Violence Against Women Act. It passed that fall, helping to fund shelters, hotlines and other services ever since.

Nicole herself called a helpline five days before she was killed, as Simpson’s stalking intensified. They had been on and off since their 1992 divorce, but finally, at 35, she was looking to make a clean break.

“She was on the cusp of a new life," said Moore, who found it difficult to realize how much Nicole had suffered in silence.

“This was a woman who couldn’t share the hell that she was going through with the people she loved. Not because she didn’t trust them, but because she wanted to protect them,” Moore said. “It must have been a very lonely experience for Nicole.”

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Dale reported from Philadelphia. Associated Press journalist Brooke Lefferts contributed reporting from New York.

Credit: Christopher Smith/Invision/AP

Credit: Christopher Smith/Invision/AP

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Credit: Christopher Smith/Invision/AP

Credit: Christopher Smith/Invision/AP

Credit: Christopher Smith/Invision/AP

Credit: Christopher Smith/Invision/AP