Casey Johnson, Dead at 30, Enjoyed Family Wealth but Chose Fame

For Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) heiress Casey Johnson, 30, the battle between a desire for media attention and her family's struggle for privacy translated into a painful choice between wealth and fame. On Monday, the struggle ended sadly: Johnson found dead of undetermined causes in her Los Angeles home.%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% Johnson's death leaves many wondering about the fate of her unimaginable inheritance. The socialite daughter of New York Jets football team owner Robert Johnson IV was heir to an impressive trust fund. Complicating matters, she had an adopted child, a Kazakh-born orphan named Ava Monroe. Last year, Johnson's mother assumed custody of the child and, with her ex-husband, cut off Johnson's trust fund.

Through a combination of wealth and influence, the famously media-shy Johnson clan has ensured that when the family name does appear in print, it's connected with charitable and noble causes. Casey Johnson learned this lesson early: When she was diagnosed at 8 with diabetes, she and her father co-wrote a book on managing diet and lifestyle.

The Not-So-Simple Life

Casey followed in her family's discreet footsteps, studying at Manhattan's exclusive Chapin School, Marymount School, and Dwight School. But there are signs that the young Johnson was itching to move beyond her family's conservative embrace. One person familiar with New York's private schools noted that Marymount "is where students go when they get kicked out of Chapin"; Dwight's name is informally known by an acronym: Dumb White Idiots Getting High Together. While at Dwight, Johnson befriended another young heiress: Paris Hilton.

While Johnson followed family tradition and remained out of the limelight, Hilton, of course, has never stopped seeking it. Johnson declined Hilton's offer of taking the sidekick role on the TV show The Simple Life -- the role went to Nicole Richie, and Johnson later called her refusal "the stupidest mistake of my life." She also sat out Born Rich, a 2003 documentary by her uncle Jamie Johnson that explored the conflicted lives of wealthy heirs and heiresses.

Fame Trumps Money

Johnson might have continued her family code of silence if not for a love triangle in 2007 involving her aunt. After an ex-boyfriend began dating Johnson's Aunt Libet, the young heiress vented to The New York Daily News: "She's been divorced umpteen times. She's afraid of going out in public. She was sleeping with my boyfriend, who I was in love with. An old woman with a lot of money is a very powerful aphrodisiac." Months later, she followed this bombshell with an explosive exposé in Vanity Fair.

Over the next few years, she also appeared on celebutante TV shows including VH1's The Fabulous Life and E! True Hollywood Story. In 2008, the media followed her sordid tales of an abusive relationship with Courtenay Semel, daughter of former Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Terry Semel.

In recent months, the Casey Johnson media machine kicked into overdrive: She was arrested for stealing clothes, jewelry, and shoes from model Jasmine Lennard, and her Twitter feed documented in startling detail her recent engagement to VH1 reality-show star Tila Tequila.

In the end, for Johnson -- excised from her trust fund wealth -- fame won out over money. Her final notes had offered hope that she was getting a grip on her life -- and her daughter. "I'm getting a new car," she Tweeted. "Any ideas? Cant be a two-seater 'cause we have a daughter...sedan, sports car, suv??"
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