Andy Warhol’s picture of O.J. Simpson from 1977 that now shows ‘celebrity and tragedy’ is anticipated to bring up to $500,000 at auction

It was 1977, and Andy Warhol was at deal with his “Athletes” series, pictures of leading sports characters who, he felt, were acquiring cultural prominence similar to “the movie stars of yesterday.” One of them was then the star running back of the Buffalo Bills: O.J. Simpson.

Simpson, then 30, appeared without a football or a jersey, and Warhol needed to rush to discover a ball. That Polaroid shoot caused 11 silkscreen pictures; among them is now going on auction for the very first time.

Signed by both males, the picture is billed by the auction home as a work that combines 2 of the most identifiable names of the 20th century and records “a trajectory of celebrity and tragedy.”

“Warhol certainly could never have imagined how differently the image would come to be viewed, nor the controversy that still lingers around its subject today,” stated Robert Manley, co-head of 20th century and modern art at the Phillips auction home, which is auctioning the work May 16.

It was practically twenty years after Warhol’s image shoot, in 1995, that Simpson — who had actually retired from the NFL in 1979 and pursued an acting profession — was acquitted of the double slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her pal Ronald Goldman. He was later on discovered accountable for the deaths by a California civil court jury that bought him to pay $33.5 million to victims’ households.

In a different case more than a years later on, Simpson was founded guilty by a jury in Las Vegas for leading 5 males, consisting of 2 with weapons, in a 2007 conflict with 2 sports antiques dealerships in a confined space at an off-strip Las Vegas gambling establishment hotel. Simpson served 9 years in a Nevada jail for heist. He was released from parole in December 2021.

Manley kept in mind that 5 years after Warhol made it, the picture still stimulates a strong response.

“Those who view the image of Simpson staring directly down the camera are likely to recall the other notorious picture of the celebrity — his mugshot,” Manley stated. “Juxtaposing these two images, created at such different points in Simpson’s life, shows a fascinating trajectory of celebrity and tragedy.”

Commissioned as part of the more comprehensive “Athletes” series that consisted of Muhammad Ali, soccer star Pelé, tennis star Chris Evert, golf’s Jack Nicklaus and figure skater Dorothy Hamill, to name a few, by Warhol pal and collector Richard Weisman, this specific picture invested 19 years at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, where it was contributed in 1992 and, according to a representative there, never ever showed.

In 2011, it was deaccessioned — or completely eliminated from the collection — and offered to a confidential collector in a personal sale through Christie’s, with earnings going to money conservation of other products in the hall’s collection, stated hall representative Rich Desrosiers. Phillips approximates the picture will offer in the $300,000 to $500,000 variety. As with any of the professional athletes in the series, Simpson would not have existing rights to earnings, the auction home stated.

The greatest cost attained at auction for among Warhol’s Simpson pictures was $687,000, offered in 2019.

Warhol photographed Simpson in Buffalo on Oct. 19, 1977. According to the auction brochure, a quote from Warhol’s journal that day checks out, “He had a five-day beard and I thought the pictures would be awful.” Warhol passed away in 1987 at age 58.

The work will be on show and tell May 6-15 in New York prior to being auctioned.


News and digital media editor, writer, and communications specialist. Passionate about social justice, equity, and wellness. Covering the news, viewing it differently.

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