The Battle Over Casey
The Battle Over Casey
Cut off by her family, heiress Johnson died while searching for the fame that eluded her. Inside her sad last days
By Ericka Sóuter
There was on thing the $13 billion Johnson & Johnson fortune couldn’t buy heiress Casey Johnson: stardom. “I kick myself in the butt every day,” she once said of turning down pal Paris Hilton’s invitation to costar on The Simple Life, the Fox series that made Hilton and Nicole Richie household names. A pal says of Johnson, who was fond dead at age 30 in the guesthouse of a family friend in Los Angeles January 4: “In her mind, that remained one of the biggest mistakes she ever made. She had everything but couldn’t buy herself the fame she wanted.”
In a sad twist of fate, her death is what has finally brought the Manhattan-bred Johnson, daughter of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and his ex-wife, Sale, the media spotlight she so craved. The tawdry details of her demise – her body lay for four days before it was discovered – grabbed headlines. And though some friends insist Johnson’s type 1 diabetes was to blame (cause of death had not been declared), according to a source, the heiress had gone to rehab most recently in August for drug and alcohol addiction.
Also fueling her posthumous notoriety: her recent engagement to D-list reality star Tia Tequila (née Nguyen). A huge internet presence with an “army” of followers, she spurred a Hollywood catfight with her relentless stream of tweets attacking both the “nasty girls” she claims used her beloved and the “homophobic” family that is keeping her away. As Johnson’s estranged family brought the body back east for burial, Tequila Twittered: “If I was a GUY as her fiancé, I wouldn’t be treated like this. They did NOT like lesbians. Neither did Nicky Hilton, Caney told me. SAD!” Asking for “a measure of privacy,” the family has said it will not comment.
Fall From Grace
By her own admission, Johnson grew up thoroughly spoiled. She got her first Chanel bag at age 12 and a $17,000 Cartier watch at 15. After dropping out of Brown University in her first year, she headed to L.A., becoming known as the party-girl pal of Hilton, Richie and others. In 2006, she scandalized her family by accusing, in an NYC tabloid, her 56-year-old aunt Libet of stealing her 38-year-old boyfriend, John Dee. (“An old woman with a lot of money is a very powerful aphrodisiac,” she said.)
Living in Squalor
An aspiring actress, Johnson dabbled in the family business, attempting to launch a skincare line in 2007. But friends say she had not concept pf how to manage money. “Casey was given an allowance of $35,000 to $40,000 a month,” says a friend. “She would go through it and constantly borrowed money from people.”
She also fell prey to opportunists who loved her money more than they loved her. “I’ve had a lot of people us me,” she has said. “I’m so unaware of things like that.”
Perhaps seeking unconditional love, she was inspired by family friend Diandra Douglas (Michael Douglas’ ex) to adopt from Kazakhstan in 2007. Admiring Douglas’ blonde, blue-eyed daughter, she said, “I thought, Oh, my gosh, this is what I’m going to do.” But a friend says she was a less than attentive mother: “If Ava woke up crying or fussing, she’d buzz her full-time nanny on the intercom. She was never alone with her daughter, ever.”
Increasingly, friends say, Johnson’s behavior grew erratic. A pal recalls her turbulent relationship with Filthy Rich vet Courtenay Semel, daughter of Yahoo CEO Terry Semel, whom she dated in 2008. “Casey would wake Courtenay up and ask her who she was. She’d accuse her of being an intruder and call the police.”
In November, she was arrested for robbing an ex-gal pal, former U.K. Make Me a Supermodel contestant Jasmine Lennard – allegedly taking, among other things, Trashy Lingerie underwear, jewelry and a vintage fur coat (and leaving behind a used sex toy). Out on $20,000 bail, the heiress denied the charges, saying, “It is not true.”
Within the past two years, her family, hoping to curb her wild behavior, cut her off. (“It’s not like I got arrested for prostitution of a DUI,” Johnson told Page Six Magazine). Her mother, Sale, took custody of Ava. And by the time of Johnson’s death, she was destitute, say friends. A pal describes the L.A. house where she lived before the family friend took her in as “disgusting. The dirty dishes and the trash, it was bad.” Recalls another, “She trashed a house she was renting a few years ago – she cut the phone and electrical wires in the entire house.”
The reality starlet seemed to offer hope. Weeks after connecting through mutual friends (they both dated Semel), they announced their engagement via webcast December 9. The clip featured Tequila eaving a 17-carat diamond ring and bragging of her “bazillionaire” fiancée while an out-of-it Johnson looked on. Shocked friends called it a publicity stunt. “Casey was at rock bottom, looking for someone to love her, and Tila promised fame and money,” says the friends.
No Tequila, who Twittered that she wants to adopt Ava (whom she’s never met), is keeping her “wifey’s” memory, as well as her own publicity, alive with her posts and rants – against Nicky Hilton and Phillips, and the Johnsons for not inviting her to the funeral. Still, CNN canceled Tequila’s January 12 appearance on Larry King Live.
As for Johnson, neighbor Richard Kramer remembers her as adorable but lost. “Casey was really like a broken bird,” he tells Us. “If only someone had taken her under their wing.”
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Where Will Ava Go?
Two years after adopting daughter Ava, no 3, from Kazakhstan, Casey Johnson gave up custody to her mother Sale Johnson (godmother is Nicky Hilton). “Casey loved Ava but couldn’t handle her,” says an insider. “She knew it, everyone knew it. Sale just said, ‘Ava is coming to live with me,’ and that was that. She handed her over to her mom. It wasn’t a dramatic thing, Casey couldn’t provide for her and she wanted the best for Ava.” But not all friends agree. “Casey has given her daughter up to the same mother who raised her?” worries a pal. “Hopefully she won’t make the same mistakes.”
Where Were Her Friends?
The socialite counted movie stars and blue bloods alike in her inner circle. Though friends with Paris and Nicky Hilton since her childhood on NYC’s Upper East Side, “they had grown apart over the years because of Casey’s erratic behavior,” says an acquaintance. Several sources say she began drinking heavily, using cocaine and abusing prescription drugs. Still, her pals did not abandon her without a fight. “Several members of the Hilton family were asked to participate in an intervention for Casey to stop drinking and drugging, but Casey refused,” says the acquaintance. Concludes another pal, “She and Nicky were best friends, but there wasn’t much more Nicky could do. There comes a point where you can’t stand by anymore and watch what’s happening.”
Was It Love?
“We were so in love,” blogged Tequila of her “wife.” But a Johnson pal isn’t buying it, telling Us: “That engagement was such a joke.” The Shot at Love star burned up the Web with more than 160 tweets in seven days defying her naysayers.
“RIP CASEY NGUYEN…I LOVE YOU. LIFE GOES ONB UT YOU WILL ALWAYS BE IN MY HEART…ALWAYS FOREVER UNTIL I SEE YOU AGAIN IN HEAVEN”
“PPL say I need 2 get off twitter & grieve with friends and family…WHERE? I DONT HAVE ANY! Casey was my only family & my Dogs! Worst day ever”
“No point in wasting negative energy on negative people. It gets you NOWHERE! READY FOR MY GOOD NEWS NOW?????”