But what few people know is that Erik, Lyle and Simpson first met each other long before their arrests for the brutal murders of four people.
“O.J. Simpson came over to our house several times,” Lyle, now 49, tells PEOPLE in a rare interview from California’s Mule Creek State Prison that appears in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.
“I certainly never thought that we’d be later meeting in prison, facing murder charges,” Lyle says. “That’s for sure.”
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The brothers were eventually convicted for the grisly 1989 shotgun slayings of their wealthy parents — entertainment executive Jose Menendez, 45, and 47-year-old stay-at-home mom Kitty Menendez — and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Incarcerated in two California prisons about 500 miles apart, Lyle and Erik haven’t seen or spoken to each other since 1996.
Simpson was acquitted of the 1994 murders of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman. In 2008, in a separate case in Nevada, he was convicted of multiple felonies, including assault and kidnapping, and sentenced to 33 years.
The First Meeting
The trio first crossed paths in the mid 1970s when Lyle and Erik’s father, who served as the chief financial officer and general manager of the Hertz rental car company, signed the former Buffalo Bills star running back to an advertising contract with the firm.
The resulting TV ad campaign, which ran for several years beginning in 1975, memorably featured Simpson — clad in a coat and tie, clutching a briefcase — sprinting through airports and hurtling over obstacles on his way to the Hertz rental car counter.
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“He [Jose] happened to be the head of a company and they were moving into heavy advertising, and they had this novel idea of having a sports hero do it,” Lyle explains. “More people knew O.J. for that [the TV ads] than anything else …”
He pauses for a moment, then adds, “Before what happened … happened.”
The Menendez brothers were young boys during those first meetings, but Lyle still remembers tossing footballs with Simpson when he came over to the family’s home — and the signed footballs that he gave them.
‘We Had a Lot of Conversations’ Behind Bars
Several months before the brothers shot their parents in the den of their Beverly Hills mansion in August 1989, Lyle recalls running into Simpson at a trendy L.A. restaurant with several of his teammates on the tennis team at Princeton University, where he was a student.
Five years later, Simpson and Lyle met again in a much different setting. “The next time we had extensive contact with him was in the county jail,” says Lyle, who was being held there awaiting his second murder trial after the first ended in a deadlock.
Simpson had just recently been arrested, which made international headlines. The trio spent much of the next 16 months locked up in close proximity to one another during Simpson’s so-called “Trial of the Century,” which ended with his acquittal in October 1995.
“We were able to talk quite a bit,” Lyle remembers. “We shared the same attorney [meeting] room and we were housed in the same area. My brother was in the cell next to him for most of his trial, so we had a lot of conversations.”
Simpson, Lyle recalls, “was just very overwhelmed by what was happening to him. I don’t know if I want to go further into it any more than that.”