Before Arnold Schwarzenegger, O.J. Simpson was very nearly cast in The Terminator, and the reason why he wasn't will cause many to do a double-take. Simpson was a great football player, there's no real disputing that fact. He won the Heisman Trophy in college, then played for 11 seasons in the NFL, setting all-time records, and eventually being inducted into both the college and professional football hall of fames. Of course, when people think of Simpson now, it's rarely his football career that comes to mind.
In 1994, Simpson was arrested and charged with the murder of both his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman. Their slayings were brutal, with both being stabbed to death. The resulting trial became one of the most famous in American history, with wall to wall TV coverage of every hearing, piece of testimony, and development. More than a year later, Simpson was acquitted by a jury of the murders, but public opinion was very much against him, and today most people surveyed believe he committed the crimes.
Before the alleged murders, and after retiring from football, Simpson tried his hand at acting, most notably playing the constantly injured Nordberg in the Naked Gun trilogy. In 1984, Simpson came very close to being cast in The Terminator's title role, and in hindsight, the reason behind him ultimately not getting the part is both disturbing and darkly comedic.
To get the obvious out of the way, O.J. Simpson is a very, very different onscreen performer than Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his presence in the villain role would've changed The Terminator in many ways. Interestingly, the only reason Simpson came up in the conversation at all was due to distributor Orion Pictures initially suggesting Schwarzenegger for the role of Kyle Reese. James Cameron wasn't sold on the idea, positing that the T-800 would need to be as big or bigger than Arnold to believably match him as an antagonist. To accomplish that, the studio suggested Simpson, a rather large man in his own right. Cameron baulked at that pick, and ended up offering Schwarzenegger the T-800 role after meeting with him in person and being impressed.
That's where the disturbing/hilarious part of the equation kicks in. Cameron objected to Simpson's casting because he felt the ex-football player was "too nice," and wouldn't be believable as a killing machine like the T-800. It's a conclusion that seems ridiculous in hindsight, now that Simpson is best known for the vicious murders most people believe he committed. Through an early-1980s lens though, Cameron's assessment seems fairly logical. After all, Simpson didn't end up in the Naked Gun movies by accident, he had a positive reputation at the time. Still, one wonders what occurred in whatever alternate universe saw O.J. Simpson as The Terminator actually happen.