Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness: The Casey Johnson Story

The life and death of an heiress

Casey Johnson was one of the heiresses to the billion-dollar healthcare company Johnson & Johnson.

She was young, beautiful, and rich but she died alone on January 4, 2010, at the age of thirty.

Her father, Robert Woody Johnson IV, is the great-grandson of Robert Woody Johnson who co-founded Johnson & Johnson.

Casey’s father, who goes by the name Woody, owns the New York Jets and is currently the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

He was able to conquer the business world but he was not able to save his daughter Casey, who suffered from mental health issues.


A Troubled Childhood

Casey was born on September 24, 1979. She was raised in Manhattan, New York, and attended a prestigious private school for the duration of her education.

At the tender age of 8, Casey was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.

At 9-years-old, Casey became unpredictable and disruptive at school so she began seeing a therapist.

This therapist became a father figure to little Casey because her father could not relate to his daughter and her struggles.

An author named Jerry Oppenheimer wrote a book about Casey called “Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal, and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty.”

In this book, Casey’s mother, Sale Johnson spoke candidly about her daughter’s relationship with her father.

“Woody was not a warm, cuddly kind of person. With Casey, Woody was so uncomfortable because he didn’t know what to do with her, or how to react to her situation because she was not easy to deal with. She was very complicated, and it was overwhelming in a large part for Woody despite his best efforts. All Casey wanted was her father’s approval. She lived for that, and she was broken down because she didn’t get it.”


A Wild Life and Limitless Bank Account

In her teenage years, Casey’s behavior became increasingly erratic and she was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental disorder that changes the way you think about yourself and others. It is characterized by unstable relationships with loved ones, a fear of abandonment, and difficulty managing emotions.

“Borderline personality disorder ruled Casey’s life. It stole her teenage years and her young adult life away from her. It’s a mental health disease that confounds, scares,  and hurts the victim, her family, her friends, and her doctors. They don’t want to treat it because it has the highest suicide rate, and no cure and someone like Casey is a 24/7 patient”

Casey lived a life of lavish indulgence. She was given a car at the age of 16, even though she didn’t have her license and got breast implant surgery at 18.

She once said, “I got everything I wanted!”

Woody spoiled Casey, and according to a family member, he was raised with the idea that money will fix everything.

He believed by giving Casey everything she asked for, he was fixing her.


Hollywood Dreams

Casey partied hard throughout her teens and twenties, drinking and staying out until dawn.

According to her mother, she experimented with drugs to ease her emotional pain. Casey attended Brown University and dropped out after completing one semester.

Casey being a diabetic and having Borderline Personality Disorder complicated her young life. She constantly neglected her physical and mental health.

From the outside, Casey seemed to be aimless but she had dreams like most young women do.

She took singing lessons as a young girl and wanted to move to Hollywood and pursue stardom as an actress and singer. Unfortunately, how others viewed her got in the way of her achieving her dream.

She once attended a Hollywood party and overheard a woman saying “Oh that’s the Johnson and Johnson girl.”

“My heart just sank because I don’t want to be identified like that. I’m Casey Johnson. I’m not the Johnson and Johnson girl. It really hurt.”

— Casey Johnson

Casey also learned to be wary of people who wanted to take advantage of her.  She had experienced the pitfalls of being a famous socialite and recognized some people will attempt to use her for personal gain.

I’ve learned that the hard way. I’ve found a lot of people use me . . . I just let things happen, and then I find out, ‘Oh, my God, they’re totally taking advantage of me.”

— Casey Johnson

Despite the negative aspects of the Hollywood lifestyle, Casey stayed in Hollywood and her behavior and substance abuse increased.

Her family traveled to Los Angeles and staged several interventions in 2005. Casey declined the opportunity to go to rehab.

Casey’s mother said Casey had “blew them off”, saying ‘I’m sorry you wasted a trip’”.

After the attempted interventions, Woody decided he was done trying to help Casey and he washed his hands of her and all of her problems.


Tabloid Headlines Run Wild

Casey’s substance use and wild partying was tabloid fodder. She also had a very public falling-out with her aunt, who was her father’s sister, Elizabeth Ross “Libet” Johnson.

Casey publicly accused Elizabeth of stealing her boyfriend, which resulted in an explosion of media attention.

The Johnsons are a very private family and were humiliated by the tabloid headlines.

At this point Casey and her father were estranged. He had also cut off her access to her million-dollar trust fund as an act of “tough love”.


Someone to love

Casey wanted to love and be loved. She wanted to adopt a child. Casey’s mother, who she was not estranged from, told Casey she was against the idea.

When Casey was doing well mentally, she was aware of her inability to raise a baby. However, when she was being ruled by her mental illness, it prevented her from recognizing that she was not capable of caring for another person.

“I told her I was totally against the adoption, I said, ‘You don’t have your own life together, how are you going to keep track of somebody else’s life? This is not a puppy that if it doesn’t work out, you can give it to a friend.’”

— Sale Johnson

In her early twenties, Casey had several dogs, one time when she was staying in a luxury hotel, they defecated all over the hotel room she was staying in. This resulted in Woody footing a 20,000 dollar bill for the damage.

It was obvious that Casey was unable to care for animals, much less a baby but despite Sale’s attempt to stop the adoption, Casey adopted a baby in 2007.

The baby girl was from Kazakhstan and Casey named her Ava-Monroe, in honor of Marilyn Monroe.

In 2008, Casey was still estranged from her father and decided she wanted 2-year-old Ava to meet him.

Casey flew to Woody’s home in The Hamptons that he shared with his second wife Suzanne Ircha. Woody was not home when Casey and Ava knocked on the door. Suzanne answered and told Casey to leave.

Casey refused to leave, saying she wanted Ava to know her grandfather. Suzanne called the police and when Woody showed up he told Casey and Ava to leave and never come back.

Casey told her mother that her fondest wish was to have a relationship with her father. Woody declined to be interviewed for Oppenheimer’s book, so it is not known if he was exhibiting tough love or if he was truly done with Casey.

 “Casey sent love letters to her father. She called and left voice mails, and Woody chose not to respond.”

— Sale Johnson


A Downward Spiral

By 2009, Casey’s physical and mental health was failing. Casey and Sale had a falling out over the well-being of Ava.

Casey’s mother was trying everything she could to get Casey help for her mental health but Casey declined every opportunity to get better. She also refused to let Sale take Ava while she got her life together.

Casey was hospitalized with complications from her diabetes and she finally agreed to let her mother take Ava. The hospital visit was believed to be the last time Sale saw her daughter alive.

After Casey was released from the hospital, she moved back into her home in Beverly Hills. Her family had cut her finances off completely and Casey was riddled with debt.

She owed back rent to a former landlord and her Porsche was repossessed for non-payment.

She left her extravagant home in Beverly Hills and moved to a home rented from her mother’s friend in West Hollywood.

She was excited to have a fresh start and had finally fallen in love.


Love and Death

Tila Tequila is a reality personality, famous for her reality show called “A shot at love”.

In the early 2000s, she was known for her hard-partying antics and wearing skimpy outfits.

Now she is known for wearing nazi uniforms and bizarre posts on social media.

Casey and Tila met in late 2009 and fell in love. Tila has said they were engaged and their romance made tabloid headlines.

Tila was away for Christmas and New Years’ eve and Casey spent the holidays alone. She had not been looking after herself and had reportedly stopped taking her insulin. She had problems sleeping and drank copious amounts of NyQuil to sleep.

On New Years’ Eve, Casey spent the night alone in her home. At 11:30 am, Casey did not respond to her friends knocking at her door, shortly after one of the friends contacted emergency services.

An unidentified female made the 911 call, stating that Casey’s hands were blue and ice cold and that “It could be a suicide or her medication may have been mixed up.”

Casey Johnson was found dead in her bed at the age of 30. Casey’s body was so depleted from neglect that she died of diabetic ketoacidosis.

Casey’s daughter Ava is being raised by Sale. She finds comfort in being there for Ava as she grows up.

“Ava’s the most beguiling creature on this planet, she’s just a freak of nature. She’s just happy and smart and so up for anything. Life is an adventure.”

— Sale Johnson


Casey was young, beautiful, and rich. People believe anyone who has this kind of life should be happy.

The truth is, money doesn’t buy happiness and it can’t buy love.

From what is said in Oppenheimer’s book, Casey desperately wanted her father’s attention and love but wasn’t able to get through to him.

On the flip side, Woody may have been exhausted from dealing with a daughter who seemed to be lost. I think he believed that “tough love” would suddenly snap her out of mental illness.

Woody learned the hard way that tough love doesn’t work.


[1] Jerry Oppenheimer. Publishing date: August 13, 2013. Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal, and Tragedy Inside the Johnson & Johnson Dynasty. https://www.amazon.ca/Crazy-Rich-Scandal-Tragedy-Johnson-ebook/dp/B009LRWGYQ

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