As many are remembering the complicated (mostly terrible) legacy of the late OJ Simpson today, we look back on his father, who came out as LGBTQ and was apparently a known San Francisco drag queen called “Mama Simpson.”

Many of today’s obituaries for OJ Simpson note the football star-turned-murder suspect’s San Francisco roots. Simpson was born in SF, raised in Potrero Hill, attended Galileo High School, and played one year of college football at SF City College before transferring to USC.

But there’s another curious detail about Simpson's SF youth. His father, who came out as gay and was largely absent from the family once Simpson turned four years old, would become a local drag queen known as “Mama Simpson.”

There is admittedly little information about the life of OJ's father, Jimmy Lee Simpson, who died of HIV/AIDS in 1986. But the few accounts there are have consistency across them.

We see reference in the 2015 book The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson by Jeffrey Toobin (yes, that Jeffrey Toobin) that Jimmy Lee Simpson was a gay man. “His father was an intermittent presence in [OJ’s] life,” Toobin writes. “In later life, he came out as homosexual. He died of AIDS in 1985.” Though a Jet report from the time lists Jimmy Lee Simpson as dying in 1986.

OJ Simpson harbored ill feelings about his father’s leaving the family. “I resented his absence, especially when I became a teen-ager and was trying to find out who I was," he said in a 1977 Parents magazine interview. "I really needed a man around then for guidance. I get along with my father now, but it's taken years for me to come to terms with my feelings."

ESPN’s Academy Award-winning documentary O.J.: Made in America interviewed one of OJ’s childhood friends, Calvin Tennyson, who recalled a visit he and OJ made to Jimmy Lee Simpson’s apartment.

“And when his dad opened the door, he was in a bathrobe, which is not a crime. But then his dad kind of opened the door more, and there was a guy in the back in a bathrobe too. So it was obvious that his dad was gay.”
“Back in our day that was the worst thing in the world that you could ever think about. An African-American man being a homosexual.”

George Carpozi’s 1995 book called The Lies of OJ Simpson dug deeper into Jimmy Lee Simpson’s SF drag activity, albeit from an unnamed interview source, who said:

“Mama Simpson, as he was known to me, used to hang around the hotel where I lived and was frequently dressed in drag. Everyone knew he was O.J.’s dad. He got to be known as Mama Simpson because he favored young, butch white kids as boyfriends.”

There is reason to connect OJ Simpson’s demonstrated physical abuse of late wife Nicole Brown Simpson (whom he was accused of killing in that celebrated murder trial) with homophobia.  Prosecutors cited one of her diary entries which read:

“Hawaii — gay man kissed [their son] Justin. O.J. threw me against walls in our hotel and on the floor. Put bruises on my arms and back. The window scarred me — thought he’d throw me out.”

It also seems OJ and Jimmy Lee reconciled later in life, and Jimmy Lee Simpson did attend his son’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in 1985. And as seen below, OJ Simpson appeared to wholly support Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib coming out of the closet in 2021.

Related: OJ Simpson Has Died at Age 76, His Family Announces [SFNews]

Image: ESPN, ‘O.J.: Made in America’