LOS ANGELES -- He was a waiter and sometime model. His driver's license photo showed his head cocked back, a bandanna swathed around his head. Now here he was, deep in the night, dead on the walkway of a friend, Nicole Brown Simpson.
Images sprang. Rumors spread. In an instant, the world had created its own Ron Lyle Goldman -- a smooth-talking, tanned gadabout.
But the real story bears no resemblance to the fictional image.
At 25, Mr. Goldman was still finding his way through the maze of dreams that Los Angeles seems to offer. He longed for a serious girlfriend but didn't have one. He wanted to open his own restaurant, but that dream was years away from becoming a reality. In the meantime, he waited on tables at Mezzaluna, a chic restaurant a short walk from his $750-a-month apartment.
"I think Ron's philosophy was to shoot for the stars," said his friend Michael Davis. "I think we're all dreamers."
Mr. Goldman and his fellow dreamers were the good-looking, weightlifting young men who easily made friends walking through Brentwood Gardens, a shopping mall, or lingering over coffee at the Starbucks on San Vicente Boulevard.
Like them, he embraced the mythologized Los Angeles lifestyle -- heplayed beach volleyball, surfed, skated on Rollerblades, appeared on "Studs" -- the now-defunct game show that featured young men and women sparring and flirting with each other.
It was in Brentwood that Mr. Goldman crossed paths with Mrs. Simpson. They met two months ago, maybe three, when his neighbor introduced them at Starbucks.
She was as chatty as his friends, and the encounters between Mr. Goldman and Mrs. Simpson seemed breezy and innocent. That he was the other man in Mrs. Simpson's life seems unlikely, his friends insist.
Mr. Goldman, who would have been 26 last Saturday, made friends effortlessly.
In the last months of his life, after finishing work at Mezzaluna, he would drop in on his friend and neighbor Gail Evertz, bearing pasta from the restaurant or a reminder to lock her windows.
"He would help anyone," Ms. Evertz said. "He was the kind of guy who just gave unconditionally."
In essence, despite the snapshot image of him after his murder, Mr. Goldman seemed not much different from the sweet, endearing prankster recalled by his childhood neighbors and high school friends in Buffalo Grove, Ill., a Chicago suburb.
Still, he had changed both in looks and lifestyle. Those who've seen the recent photos of a tall, muscled man who sometimes modeled could hardly believe it was the same short, wiry teen-ager they knew at Stevenson High.
At 18, Mr. Goldman left Illinois State University after one year to be with his family in Southern California. Mr. Goldman plunged into the Los Angeles scene -- even though he lived miles away.
In his new life, Mr. Goldman had a string of jobs as a waiter. He met Craig Clark when they both worked at the Pierview restaurant in Malibu.
"Anywhere that was hot, everywhere that was hot," said Mr. Clark, laughing about their night life. "We always got in free because he always knew people at the clubs."
At one of those clubs, Mr. Clark recalled, Mr. Goldman met a pretty, slender blonde woman named Jacqui Bell. In 1992, Ms. Bell and Mr. Goldman began an intense on-again, off-again live-in relationship.
He got a job as a waiter at the California Pizza Kitchen in the airy white-walled Brentwood Gardens mall. His life revolved around Ms. Bell and his widening circle of friends in Brentwood.
Mr. Goldman, friends remember, very rarely drank, was never seen taking drugs and asked about low-fat diets. Women found him warm and affectionate. Far from being a heart breaker, he seemed the one more likely to have his heart broken.
"It's very hard waking up in the morning knowing one of the few wonderful people in the world is gone," said Ms. Bell, who ended their relationship four months ago.
"He wanted a commitment. I'm not very good with commitments. Maybe if I'd given him the commitment he wanted he'd still be here," she said in an anguished voice.
He told Mr. Davis that he envied his friend's quiet times with his girlfriend: "He would say. . . . 'I really miss that -- having someone to talk to, you don't have to go out, you can avoid all the craziness out there.' "
Mr. Goldman appeared no closer to Mrs. Simpson than the rest of the men who frequented Starbucks and shared breezy conversations with her -- except that he got an occasional chance to drive her white convertible Ferrari.
"If he was having a relationship with her, he would have told us," Jeff Keller said.
The Friday before his death, Mr. Goldman recounted to a friend that he had gone with Mrs. Simpson to the Gate, a popular West Hollywood club. He reveled in the moment when they pulled up to the entrance and caused everyone to stare.
"I said, 'Ron, when you show up at the Gate with O. J. Simpson's wife, driving her Ferrari, you're asking for trouble,' " said the friend who asked not to be named.
Mr. Goldman reassured him that there was little to it. "He said, 'Don't worry about it. We're just friends.' "