He would be convicted of the friend’s murder, would be accused and acquitted of two other killings from 2012 and would become a vivid, ready example of out-of-control off-field behavior by N.F.L. players.
On Wednesday, just five days after his acquittal and on the day his former team celebrated its recent Super Bowl victory at the White House, Hernandez, 27, hanged himself in the prison where he was serving a life sentence.
Guards at the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Mass., found that Hernandez had hanged himself with a bedsheet attached to a cell window around 3 a.m., the Massachusetts Department of Correction said in a statement. He had also attempted to block the door to his cell.
Hernandez was housed in a single cell in the general prison population, the statement said, and a spokesman added that officials had not had a reason to believe he was a suicide risk, a sentiment echoed by Hernandez’s lawyer. No note was found.
For the past several years, mystery and paradox shrouded the life of Aaron Hernandez, an oft-smiling cog of three Patriots teams who nonetheless never escaped the deleterious effects of his unruly, irregular roots.
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, when asked on CNBC last week to sum up Hernandez in a single word, replied:
Asked if Hernandez’s fate — at the time, life in prison — was also heartbreaking, Belichick responded: “Yes. That would be another word.”
The Patriots cut Hernandez from the roster shortly after his arrest and a spokesman for the team said Wednesday it would have no comment on his death.
Some fans found the twists of his life, and news of his death, shocking.
Dawn McCarthy, 53, a nurse who happened to be visiting Boston from her — and Hernandez’s — hometown of Bristol, wiped away a tear as she recalled watching Hernandez play in high school, admiring the “positive attributes he had before he took a sad turn.”
As a teenager, she said, “he influenced a lot of students and people hoping to be good football players.” McCarthy added that she had avoided media coverage of his murder trials. “It was just a painful thing to watch, read about.”
Mike Pouncey, a teammate of Hernandez’s at Florida who is now with the Miami Dolphins, wrote on Instagram: “To my friend my brother! Through thick and thin right or wrong we never left each other’s side. Today my heart hurts as I got the worse news I could have imagined.”
Throughout the many turns of Hernandez’s life — a story of success that was frequently tinged with attendant failure — there were only a few constants. One was that Hernandez…