Beauty in Black & White: Casey Johnson and Eunice Johnson Die on Same Day
Props to Salon’s Joan Walsh for noting the eery coincidence of the news of Eunice Johnson, widow of the man who created Ebony magazine, and Johnson & Johnson heiress Casey Johnson dying breaking on the same day. More than their similar but unrelated names, the two women were striking symbols of the world of beauty.
Eunice Johnson gave Ebony its name, created a makeup line and fashion shows, and held some high-profile positions at Johnson Publishing, the publishing house that puts out both Ebony and another influential black magazine, JET. The company she helped launch and run said: “Under her direction, Mrs. Johnson made a tremendous impact on the fashion industry, showcasing the best in style on African-American models of various shapes, sizes and skin tones.”
Casey Johnson, at first glance, seems like a polar opposite of Eunice Johnson. She was 30 years old compared to Eunice Johnson’s 93. An heiress and socialite, she seemed to be the poster girl for white privilege. She was often a sidekick to that other blond heiress, Paris Hilton; and Vanity Fair chronicled a feud with her aunt over a stolen boyfriend. But in her own way, Casey Johnson was boundary-breaking, too: Though she was a socialite, she was openly gay, and had recently gotten engaged to reality TV vixen Tila Tequila.
It’s often said that celebrity deaths happen in threes, and with the recent deaths of political trailblazer Percy Sutton and Dennis Brutus, who fought to end racial segregation in sports, Eunice Johnson’s death is indeed the third in a series of deaths of groundbreaking figures in racial equality in the past month.
But though her work mirrors Sutton’s and Brutus’s more closely, Eunice Johnson’s death being reported on the same day as that of Casey Johnson is sure amazing, and bizarre.
UPDATED: As my colleague Caitlin Kelly has pointed out, news of Casey Johnson’s death is easily dwarfing that of Eunice Johnson, which is not at all surprising. The media loves to see a beautiful, rich, white girl meet a tragic end – see Anna Nicole Smith, Brittany Murphy, and even Marilyn Monroe. I did not mean to suggest, nor would ever think, that Casey Johnson and Eunice Johnson meant the same thing to the world of fashion and beauty, indeed, this post was meant to acknowledge, in addition to the coincidence, how different they were.