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Jan. 5 2010 - 12:50 am | 13,943 views | 1 recommendation | 22 comments

Beauty in Black & White: Casey Johnson and Eunice Johnson Die on Same Day

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 21:  Heiress Case...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

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.


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  1. collapse expand

    How sadly predictable that the self-destructive white chick and not the accomplished black businesswoman is getting most of the media attention. Thanks for sharing this.

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    Eunice Johnson’s death is news to me! And I’ve already watched an hour of network news and read top stories from 3 papers. Wow.

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    Offended beyond belief….You dare write an article about Eunice Johnson a woman with a rich history of giving…and then to denigrate her and yourself by comparing her too Casey Johnson and worst to even mention Tila Tequila in the same article??? Does a Black Womans life mean so little?? I guess it does.

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      I certainly didn’t mean to imply that their places in the world were on the same level: Eunice Johnson worked hard for her place in fashion and beauty; Casey Johnson had it handed to her. Eunice Johnson made a point to incorporate diverse colors and sizes in her shows and throughout the magazines she worked on; Casey Johnson seemed to care only about herself and was accused many times of neglecting her own daughter. They’re clearly not on the same level, but their dying on the same day is indeed a bizarre coincidence that I wanted to highlight. As for the photo of Casey Johnson with this post, the service the blog uses to select photos did not have any available for Eunice Johnson, only photos of young celebrities attending Ebony events, and I didn’t think that would be relevant enough.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    Also you have a picture of Casey Johnson and not one of Eunice Johnson……I can am starting to see understand the reasons slowly but surely why young black women give up..You can live your entire life and give back to the community a thousand fold…when you die a Caucasian socialite will rate above you and bisexual reality television personality will be included in an article about you…once again I ask you? What is a black womans life worth?

    • collapse expand

      What is so bizarre about it??? I fail to see why you would even compare these two women. Exactly what did they have in common??? I can peruse obituaries and find many more Johnson’s that died that same day. You rationalize the elevation of a heiress (someone born into money Who’s greatest regret was not joining Paris Hilton on her show) to an African-American Business Woman and Philanthropist. This article an EPIC FAIL!!!

      When you had a chance to educate you dumbed it down. As for not finding a picture…I doubt you really looked for one. I googled EJ and found many..maybe you aught to talk to the folks who run the service and ask them why they don’t have a picture of one the most important Woman in publishing?

      I think it all comes back to the value you and your ilk place on a Woman of Color.

      Actions speak louder than words.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    These two women did not die on the same day; Casey Johnson’s been dead for a week.

  6. collapse expand

    It’s all evidence of why I have little tolerance for people who shrug off racism as cases of people who simply don’t know any better because of their lack of exposure to other cultures. Even the smallest of small towns aren’t too tiny for simple concepts such as consideration, care, and acceptance.
    Sara Libby is legal editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

    I truly the doubt that the person describe in the above passage would have written an article that compares in any way Eunice Johnson and the Casey (Tila Tequila) Johnson.

    And for added insult your banner puts the heiress before the Philanthropist.

    You really should check yourself…I don’t believe that you should write about race unless of course you get hire by FOX news…then maybe those AA courses you took in college may come in handy.

    Please Please Please don’t reply with “I have many friends of Color”.

    Don’t reply this has been interesting.

    I will however continue reading your post. I like to know how people think, I’m just a bit dismayed that you can’t see that your article..now forever on the web..does a disservice to a long and storied life and career.

  7. collapse expand

    1. Eunice Johnson died on Sunday. Coming off a major holiday weekend where many are typically out of office/returning from vacation, an official statement followed by a biography (see ebonyjet.com) was released on Monday as a preference whereas the younger Johnson died on Monday and news was released via Twitter the same day before it hit mainstream so the “eerie coincidence” that news of their passing broke on the same day is futile.

    2. Less necessary is to add fuel to the fire of what’s newsworthy by choosing to do what media outlets like CNN in particular did with the two Johnson stories.

    A seasoned media professional can always find a picture even if it means contacting the source of the story. In addition to Ebony and Jet Web sites, there is a formal pic of Mrs. Johnson on the Johnson Publishing company Website. Many media outlets that broke the story early on Monday were able to find and use pics of Mrs. Johnson and you couldn’t because her name didn’t come up in Google or because you also have a preference for which Johnson and what topic (race) you wanted to highlight?


    If you truly believed that neither Johnson “meant the same thing to the world of fashion and beauty” then you should have written separate stories. Otherwise writing about a presumed “coincidence” is really NOT news at all (consider Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett).

  8. collapse expand

    Hmmm, it seems the anti-racists don’t understand the literary uses of irony. I’m not qualified to give basic lessons in understanding English writing, but I am sorry that the anti-racists are giving their movement a bad name by being so tone deaf. I applaud the need to fight racism, but believe that there are plenty of overt racists that should take priority over someone trying to call attention to the cruelty of fate.

  9. collapse expand

    i’d like to known why YOUR article contains a picture of casey and NO picture of eunice.

    would you be willing to ’splain that? (i know it’s probably not the author’s job to choose the accompanying photographs, but one never knows).

    it was a great piece (except for the omission) though

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    Presumably there is a word for people whose ostentatious public same-sex dalliances raise questions about the motivations for their declarations regarding their own sexuality. “Fay” or something like that. Anyone better in touch with popular culture have info in this?

  11. collapse expand

    Too bad you got taken to the woodshed on the photo you chose. It does, though, raise worthwhile questions — for all of us: would we have cared if the image was of Eunice and not Casey? By “we” the readers? Or bulk of readers?

    It’s a really sad comment, as Devon points out, that we knew about some druggy heiress before Eunice and her accomplishments.

  12. collapse expand

    Why must the “media” always be blamed for the way things go? The media cater to the public, or else they don’t sell newspapers or magazines or tv spots. It’s Mister and Mrs. John Smith that care about the one and not the other. Get with it, Gang!

  13. collapse expand

    Why must the “media” always be blamed for the way things go? The media cater to the public, or else they don’t sell newspapers or magazines or tv spots. It’s Mister and Mrs. John Smith that care about the one and not the other. Get with it, Gang!

    At one time is was the job of the 4th Estate(Media) to educate and illuminate the masses. I came to this site for elevated discourse and to find this kind of article is sorta disheartening…Once again…

  14. collapse expand

    Greg, you can take this with a grain of salt because I’m the writer’s big brother, but you are absolutely making an issue where there isn’t one. Sara made a connection between two people who have faced different kinds of bigotry. One was a hero magazine publisher and African American. One was a young white lesbian. Of course their accomplishments aren’t any more equal than their skin colors. But to assert or even imply that Sara doesn’t have the right as a veteran journalist and blogger to write about them and draw comparisons and conclusions is exponentially absurd. Your high horse is far above airplanes that have reached their cruising altitude. Why don’t you go crying about injustice somewhere it actually exists?

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    I'm a Los Angeles-based writer and editor focusing on pop and politics, race and culture, and where Gen-Yers fit into it all. My writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, WashingtonPost.com, the San Francisco Chronicle and People magazine. Among other things, I'm Oregon-born, hip-hop-addicted, and weirdly optimistic that the journalism business will stay alive.

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