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October 21, 2014

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20 years after O.J. Simpson, unwanted fame and media lies

Early on the morning of June 13, 1994, I was awakened by persistent knocking on my guesthouse door. A police officer was at the door because two beautiful people, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, had lost their lives.

Me? I was a wannabe actor from Milwaukee who was about to become famous overnight. Yep, it’s me, Kato Kaelin. I’m about as irrelevant as the “b” in the word “subtle,” but I’m still around 20 years later. This is my story. Well, part of my story, anyway. It’s about my love-hate relationship with the media and what has happened in the 20 years since “The Trial of the Century.”

One day I was a struggling actor, and the next day, the media flexed their muscle and I became a celebrity, a pariah, the world’s most famous houseguest, a traitor, a dummy, a liar, a freeloader and even an assassin’s target. Never has a man done so little to be recognized by so many.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” That’s from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” Perhaps in the interest of modesty, “greatness” might be replaced with “fame.” Some of you might be chuckling: “Kato quoting William Shakespeare? I would have thought he’d be quoting Britney Spears.” Well, truthfully, I like them both.

The O.J. saga made everyone a judge. It made you love. It made you hate. Unfortunately, I felt some of the hate. I had people spit on me, throw things at me and want to physically fight me — people who had never met me or talked to me. In the age of social media, this is what I get: “@kato_kaelin why don’t U just die, loser. Ur worthless.”

All I did was tell the truth. I couldn’t testify as to what I thought happened. I could only say what I heard or saw.

Perception is reality, and unfortunately, the media don’t always get it right. A reporter for a popular publication once wrote an article about me complete with quotes from an interview that never happened. That reporter made up the story. I’d insert the link here, but then I’d have to refute it point by point. Unfortunately, the pants I wear don’t have deep enough pockets for me to seek justice in a place I hope to never visit again — court. I’m told there was a retraction, but I never saw it. Anyway, the damage was done.

Not that I never fought back. After O.J. was acquitted, the National Examiner published a cover story declaring, “Cops Think Kato Did It.” You probably remember the headline and maybe even believed it. What you might not know is I took them to court, and a federal appeals court found that headlines can be considered libel even if the story itself is not defamatory. But in the court of public opinion, I had already lost.

For that and so much more, my only recourse has been time. Time for people to forget the lies that were printed about me, time for them to move on to their next target. Time for me to move on.

Have we grown in 20 years?

The O.J. trial had racial overtones. Are we over that ? Last March, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in the streets of Memphis, Tenn. In April, Donald Sterling made disparaging racial remarks, but at least he’s paying the price.

Have athletes and murder parted company? NFL player Aaron Hernandez has been charged with murder. The “Blade Runner,” Oscar Pistorius, shot and killed his girlfriend.

And as for the salacious media — at the grocery store checkout line you’re bombarded with magazine covers shouting, “He cheated with her” and “She slept with him” or “He slept with them.” Maybe people feel better about their own lives when they can relish someone else’s pain.

No doubt the terrible tragedy of the O.J. case changed a lot of lives. And 20 years have not diluted some people’s obsession with the trial. To this day, I have people explaining their theories of what happened on that foggy night. I try to be courteous and listen, but I will never understand exactly why people want to be a part of something that has nothing to do with them.

As for me, I believe things tend to come full circle. I know I can’t change the past; I’m thankful for the opportunity to change my future. That brings me to the “love” part of my love-hate relationship with the media. The love of my life is a television news anchor.

Away from the limelight and stage lights, my girlfriend, the news breaker, and I, the news maker, have found common ground. When we’re hungry, we eat; when we’re thirsty, we drink; and when we’re tired, we go to bed. Just me, her, and the closed-captioning person.

Kato Kaelin has appeared on FilmOn TV, where he is developing a new show. He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

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