FOR NEARLY HALF her life, Nicole Brown Simpson was known as O.J.
Simpson's girlfriend, his wife, and then his ex-wife.
But in her last days, after she had broken off efforts to get
back together with O.J. Simpson, she had been struggling to be
Hours before she was killed, Nicole Simpson and her family -
her two children, her parents, and two of her sisters - were
celebrating her freedom at Mezzaluna, one of her favorite
"She was just so vivacious, so full of life," her older sister,
Denise Brown, said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "She had
just gotten it all together, and it was so exciting. I was so happy
for her. For the first time in her life, she was able to have her
own friends. We were talking about going to Yosemite, camping,
taking the kids to Club Med. Everything was going to revolve around
"She was so happy. She had broken up with O.J. a week and a
half before. She was going to start her life over. It was going to
be without O.J., with her children. Funny thing, she still loved
O.J. She just couldn't live with him."
Sometime after she left the restaurant that evening, Nicole
Simpson was slashed to death on the steps of the townhouse where
she had hoped to forge a new identity. She had just turned 35.
Even now, it is her former husband, charged with the murder of
Nicole Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman, who is drawing all
The record of his public life is detailed. Far less is known
about Nicole Brown.
They fell in love when she was still a teen-ager, and until
their divorce in 1992 they seemed to define the California dream.
His life was her life:
The $5 million mansion in Brentwood.
The $2 million oceanfront house in Laguna Beach, Calif.
His and her Ferraris.
Vacations in Vail, Colo., and Mexico.
But there was a price. Friends of the couple said he tried to
control the relationship and even after their divorce appeared to
be possessive. Several times in the last years of their marriage,
she called police to the Brentwood home. Friends noticed bruises on
her arms and neck.
Now, her death has touched off a national debate over spousal
abuse. But Denise Brown, 37, says she doesn't want her sister to be
remembered only as a victim.
"She was not a battered woman," Brown said. "I don't want
people to think it was like that. I know Nicole. She was a very
strong-willed person. If she was beaten up, she wouldn't have
stayed with him. That wasn't her. Everybody knows about 1989. Does
anybody know about any other time?"
Back at Dana Hills High School in Orange County, Denise and
Nicole Brown had been homecoming princesses. Jo Hanson, Nicole's
home economics teacher, said: "Everybody was in awe of her. We get
a lot of beautiful students. But she was the ultimate beauty. The
girls liked and admired her. The guys were in love with her."
But it was Nicole's father, Lou Brown, who escorted his
daughter to the homecoming dance, Hanson said. "I thought she was
going to be a model, or a movie star," Hanson said. "I used to
tease her, `I should get your autograph now.' "
Nicole, born in her mother's homeland, West Germany, grew up
steps from the beach in Monarch Bay, Calif., an upper-middle-class
beach community in Orange County west of Dana Point. She had three
sisters and one brother. Her father was a small-business investor,
who now runs a Hertz rental-car franchise. Her mother, Judy, had
dabbled briefly in modeling.
"All the sisters were very pretty, very popular, very nice,"
said Valerie Rigg, who graduated between Denise and Nicole. "I
remember thinking, `The Brown sisters are going to go someplace.'
It wasn't their beauty alone. It was something about their
Nicole Brown seemed destined for big things, Rigg said. "People
said somebody wealthy and famous would nab her. …