Kato Kaelin became a household name — and the butt of many jokes — for being the slacker houseguest who testified during the murder trial of O.J. Simpson.
Two decades later, he's hoping to have the last laugh.
Kaelin is launching a line of lounge wear called Kato Potato with pockets for a TV remote, a phone and any snacks that sound like Kato, as in Cheetos, Fritos and Doritos.
"Embrace your inner slacker," he declares. "Because everyone with a couch is a couch potato sometimes."
Kaelin, 55, was in town last week promoting his men's Slacker collection of sweat pants, boxers, hoodies and robes with his business partner and longtime friend Rhonda Shear, a St. Petersburg comedian and lingerie business owner. The men's line is set to debut this fall online, in stores and on shopping channels, but details are still in the works.
The timing is, well, interesting.
June marks the 20th anniversary of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, a case that became one of the most widely publicized events in U.S. history. Simpson was arrested in the deaths — remember the white Ford Bronco chase? — and later acquitted by a jury.
Pretty boy Kaelin, while not the most helpful state witness, emerged as "America's favorite houseguest," eliciting laughs in the courtroom with his flippant comments.
He's still funny and, except for shorter hair, still looks about the same, thanks to Nerium age-defying cream, he insists.
In an interview, Kaelin told me he hasn't been in contact with Simpson or anyone else from the trial but still gets random questions about Simpson and his weight gain.
"I just say, 'I remember a different time when it was only the glove that didn't fit.' "
And where will Kaelin's clothing line be made?
"Our sister country, China."
Kaelin designed Kato Potato couch wear for men who work hard but appreciate their down time and want to be comfortable.
"These are the clothes for when you go on the couch and say, 'I'm vegging out all day,' " he said.
Kaelin and Shear plan to introduce eight items, then add a Hot Potatoes collection for women and Kater-Tots for kids. Prices will range from $29 to $69.
Friends since Shear's days as the sexy, funny host of USA: Up All Night in the early '90s, they hope to capitalize on the success of Shear's multimillion-dollar shapewear and lingerie business, Shear Enterprises. In 2012, Shear was named an Ernst & Young entrepreneur of the year in Florida and just last weekend resurrected her show on WTTA-Ch. 38.
Since the Simpson trial, Kaelin has worked mostly in TV, starring in such shows as Eye for an Eye, a quirky court program that aired for five seasons. He never lost touch with Shear and two years ago reconnected with her at a pajama party at Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion.
Although Kaelin's name might attract people to the line, he says the product will sell itself. The logo has a backward "K" with two feet walking backward "because it's okay to take a step back," he said. Above the pants pocket are the words: "TV Remote" with arrows pointing down.
Kaelin doesn't dwell on or feel uncomfortable about gaining notoriety from people's deaths.
"I can't change the fact that I was a witness in a trial, but then again, I was only a witness in this trial," he said. "My life goes on. Twenty years later, I'm the same."
He also hasn't changed his position on the crime. He believes Simpson was guilty, based on his opinion but not firsthand facts.
Kaelin continues to live in the Los Angeles area but now has his own place — a two-bedroom, three-bathroom townhouse. Every night, he spends time as a couch potato, and he's proud of it.
Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.