Irving Berlin came to New York, via a ship out of Antwerp in 1893.  His family had originated in Siberia, Russia where his father was a Cantor.  There were many Jewish families who immigrated from Russia during the mid to late 1800s due to the poor conditions and instability in the region.  Shortly after they arrived, his father died and the young children all pulled together to earn a living to help their mother, Lena.  In his biography he said that he never knew how poor he was as a child, as he knew nothing more.  He remembered very little from his years in Russia except sleeping on a blanket on the side of the road watching his house in flames, and then seeing that it had burned to the ground in the morning.  He ended up leaving home at thirteen to live in a lodging house in the Bowery area of New York City, for other homeless young boys.  He took odd jobs in restaurants as a singing waiter and staying after closing to practice playing the piano.  His first song to earn him some money was at age thirteen, for thirty-seven cents.  He went on from there to have a life long career in music, many referring to as one of the greatest song writers of all times.  He died at the age of 101 having earned Tonys, Oscars, Grammys and being honored by President Gerald Ford with the Presidential Medal of Honor in Entertainment.  A life well lived?  For sure.  

   Orenthal James Simpson was born in 1947 in San Francisco, California.  He lived with his family in the Projects in the Potrero Hill area of San Fran.  He was a sickly child, developing Ricketts, wearing braces on his legs until about age 5.  As he grew out of the illness, he started scalping tickets outside of Kezar Stadium.  He was raised by his mother, who was an orderly in a psychiatric hospital.  His father was a custodian and became a known drag queen, who died of AIDS in the 1980s.  As he grew, he became a member of a gang in the city and was in and out of trouble. While in high school, he went out for the football team, becoming a standout running back.  Due to his poor grades, a big name college scholarship was not possible, right out of high school, however, after a stint at a community college with tutors, ”OJ” managed to snag a spot on the University of Southern California football team.  His outstanding performance as a running back continued and he earned a HeismanTrophy, got married and was picked up by the Buffalo Bills. O.J. Simpson had made a name and a new life for himself.  He had grown up poor, was raised by a single mom who worked hard to bring her family up. OJ was recognized and after finishing up his pro football career with the Forty-Niners, in SanFrancisco where it all started. He dabbled in acting, became the face of Hertz Rental Car, with memorable commercial of him running through airports.  OJ was everywhere and had earned a name for himself not just in football, but in American pop culture, making appearances in movies and as a sports commentator for NBC and later, Monday Night Football on ABC.  With his handsome good looks and his beautiful smile, he charmed so many.  After a career in football, he enjoyed golf and the big name golfers wanted to golf with him.  Entrance to any club was an open door for such a star as OJ Simpson. Eventually he divorced his first wife and married a woman he had met while he was married to Marguerite Whitley.  Nicole Brown was a waitress is a popular night spot.  She was young and beautiful and charming too.  They were a gorgeous couple.  In fact, that was the first thing that came to mind when we woke up in Lake Tahoe, the morning after Nicole and a male friend who had stopped by her condo, were murdered.  We were getting ready to depart from our hotel to the airport.  Good Morning America was on and the lead story as I was getting ready was that OJ was on his way back from Chicago to LA after he had heard the news. As I stopped in front of the hotel TV I thought, “What a beautiful couple, how very tragic!”  Of course, like most Americans we followed the story on our way home at the airport and watched the white bronco chase that evening. I continued to follow the story and remember watching the verdict at a friend’s 50th Birthday Luncheon at a local restaurant when the owner wheeled out a TV on a car for us to all see OJ found not guilty, even though all the evidence pointed to him. OJ Simpson died last week at the age of 76.  A life well lived?  I think not.

     Irving Berlin and OJ Simpson.  Both both with names they eventually shed and were know not by Israel Beilin or Orenthal Simpson.  Both were poor raised by single moms who worked hard. Both spent their teenage years ‘in seedy surroundings” and both made a huge success before the age of 30, utilizing the gifts they were born with.  Both became celebrities winning numerous awards and accolades in their areas.  Both lived the American Dream and a rags to riches story.  However, not both lived out their lives able to enjoy the icing on the cake…

     Irving Berlin died a man who had lived a life of honor.  After he retired in his seventies, he lived a nice quiet life out of the spotlight.  One of his daughters recalled in a biography how he treasure his family and enjoyed spending holidays together as the children grew up, but she did say that he was a workaholic when it came to his music. 

     When I head the news of OJ Simpson’s death, it brought back that time of the trial, the news of the murder of his wife and the tv appearances of Denise Brown, Nicole’s sister and those of Ron Goldman’s sister and father.  The magazine covers, those involved, Robert Shapiro, Robert Kardashians, Kaito Kaylin, Marcia Clark, Chris Dardin, Mark Fuhrman.  The trial being televised on Court TV the Larry King shows dedicated to the story.  Then there was the Civil Law suit. OJ never paid the full amount, he moved to Florida where state law does not allow someone to loose their house or pension so OJ got to live out the remaining years of his life able to ‘enjoy’ his NFL pension, a few hundred thousand dollars per year and play golf, although no longer in demand to pro golfers and no longer admitted to the prestigious golf clubs, those days were gone after the murders and trial.  

OJ and Nicole in happier days, a very good looking couple. This was one of the photos I saw on Good Morning America the morning after Nicole and Ron Goldman were murdered.

     What a waste of a life.  To have come that far, to have attained that much success and to have ruined the lives of Nicole, Ron, their families, his children and really, his own.  We discussed this last week and.  I made mention of how he grew up and my husband’s comment was, the way he grew up most likely made him hungry for success.  My thought was, those conditions and what he went through should have made him hungry to keep the success he worked so hard to achieve and to treasure what he had been blessed with.  Why?  What makes someone just throw it all away.  Of course the murder was not the first of his down fall. 911 calls and remarks by his first wife tell another story and maybe the foreshadowing of a spiral downward, but no one could have imagined to what magnitude.  Just sad.  Just horribly sad.  

     In Irving Berlin’s probably most famous song, or at least to me, “God Bless America” the intro and the song itself, is a prayer.  

    “While the storm clouds gather, far across the sea,

  Let us share allegiance, To a land that’s free

  Let us all be grateful, for a land so fair

  As we raise our voices, in a solemn prayer…

God bless America

Land that I love

Stand beside her

And guide her

Through the night

With the light

From above

From the mountains

To the prairies

To the oceans

White with foam

God bless America

My home sweet home”

Dan Bongino, radio commentator, made the comment this week, “even on America’s worst day, it’s still the greatest place to live on earth,” and I couldn’t agree more.  It’s a place where a poor immigrant can arrive and work his way up, or a young man can be born in the projects of a big city and achieve the greatest of successes professionally and athletically.  How one chooses to use or squander those opportunities is up to each one of us.  Israel Beilin and Orenthal James Simpson each had similar starts, similar opportunities, yet each ended up on a different path later in life, one died a legend with professional successes, and an honorable family man and one the complete opposite.

Author, Mary Yana Burau