Undated (AP) _ First sadness, skepticism, disbelief. He was such a great guy. He couldn't be guilty of murder.

Then sorrow, anger - and sheer shock.

When he fled police and disappeared Friday, O.J. Simpson ceased for many to be an American hero - even before he was captured that night.

''I wanted to believe he didn't do it,'' Andy Allan said in a downtown Chicago bar. ''But at this point ...''

Allan could only sit and stare quietly at the television as it brought him the news that the retired football great had become a fugitive, then the news that Simpson had written a farewell letter.

''Truth is stranger than fiction,'' Allan said.

In Bull's restaurant in San Francisco, O.J.'s hometown, people were still trying to digest the news that he'd been charged with murder.

But then at halftime of the World Cup Germany-Bolivia match, ESPN broke in to say the Hall of Famer had become a fugitive.

Jerome Fuentes could only open his mouth and suck in his breath. Next to him, his friend Eric Kinder just shook his head.

''It sounded like he was set up - it seemed like a Perry Mason case,'' Kinder said. ''I expected someone to break down on the stand. But now, he's starting to sound dirtier and dirtier.''

''It's a strange feeling,'' Fuentes chimed in.

Across America, people in sports bars, in restaurants and at work stared at TVs to listen to Simpson's defense attorney, the police, the prosecutors. They turned away, saddened, when a friend read the letter that sounded like a farewell message.

In Buffalo, where he was a star running back with the Bills in the 1970s, hot dog vendors knew the time of his scheduled arraignment, then knew he'd failed to show up.

Some held out hope it was all a big misunderstanding.

''I still don't want to believe it,'' said Cheryl Price, a diehard Bills fan. ''It's like you lost a best friend, that's what it's like.''

Others had already made up their mind.

''Why would he run?'' Paula Thornton said at a restaurant and bar in Little Rock, Ark. ''He's my idol. I just can't believe he would do that.''

But confusion was the most widespread emotion - and amazement that a life so good could turn bad so fast.

''Take a look at a guy like him who had everything - success, respect, fame, money - why would he do it?'' Daryl Green asked as he ate lunch with his wife at a restaurant in Yakima, Wash.

Green could not decide what he believed, or what motivated people.

''He was everyone's hero,'' he said.