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O.J. Simpson comrade in crime sobers up one day at a time

Chuck Cashmore manages a nervous smile, but gets a little jumpy when I tell him I’ll be recording our conversation.

After all, his track record around such devices isn’t so great. A recording made in 2007 helped seal the fate of the defendants in the infamous O.J. Simpson sports memorabilia caper.

A peripheral member of Simpson’s boneheaded posse in a case that sent the former NFL star and double-murder suspect to prison for up to 33 years, Cashmore wound up pleading guilty to a robbery conspiracy charge. He received probation.

But our meeting isn’t about Simpson, whose appeals lawyers are attempting to reopen his case by arguing he received ineffective legal representation during a trial that buzzed in the tabloids for months.

This meeting is about something more important: Cashmore’s improbable comeback from the abyss of addiction.

At 45, the Montana native spent many years in the Las Vegas gambling business and at one time was a casino host. He lost it all thanks to drugs and alcohol, and at one point was living in his car and panhandling on Fremont Street for change. The Simpson circus was simply a linchpin.

If you can believe it, “O.J. Simpson wasn’t rock bottom for me,” Cashmore says. “It was after that.”

His body language betrays the tells of the recovering addict. The gum-snapping staccato, the mixed eye contact, and downward slope of the shoulders are those of a man who knows he’s still emerging from the darkness after nearly four years. Confidence and caution are shadow and light as he feels his way through the conversation. He once sported designer labels, but now wears humility under his old Polo shirt.

On New Year’s Eve almost four years ago, just three weeks after receiving probation, Cashmore dropped off his girlfriend at work and, in his usual party haze, got wrong his date to report to the state parole and probation office. Reminded of that fact, the officer in charge asked, “Since you’re here, why don’t you test for me?”

It was an offer Cashmore couldn’t refuse, and he pegged the meth meter. Happy New Year, welcome to jail.

Suddenly lucky Chuck Cashmore, who through the efforts of attorney Edward Miley won probation in the Simpson debacle, had violated the terms of his release. He was locked up for approximately 90 days before being transferred, thanks to his mother and Miley, to the local Salvation Army rehabilitation program, which over the years has saved legions of men from dying in the gutters of this unforgiving city.

The Vegas guy who once boasted of riding on high-roller jets was living like a pauper on the edge of existence. But he was living. A light of self-awareness began to flicker.

As if to remind himself of how far he has come, Cashmore flashes a photo of a much larger version of himself back when hard living had ballooned his weight to more than 300 pounds.

“I’m the only guy who ever gained weight on methamphetamine,” he says. “Today I’m clean and sober and try to do the right thing.”

He fed his spirit the old-fashioned way, by living one day at a time in an endless stream of 12-step meetings and with the help of friends at Freedom House, a local sober-living counseling residence. He’s now one of the counselors.

“It was the best worst time in my life, now that I look back on it,” he says, grinning at an irony. “I’m maybe the only guy who got saved by O.J. Simpson.”

Where his lifestyle and personality once were defined by amphetamine and arrogance, today he lives simply and practices humility.

“The whole time during the case,” he says, “my mom and Ed Miley never gave up on me and always checked up on me.”

Lucky Chuck Cashmore is sober proof there is life after drugs, alcohol, and even O.J. Simpson.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.

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