|Looking west across 86th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside. 12:00 AM. Photo: JH.|
|January 5, 2009. Cold, winter days, fair and mild in New York. The town’s still not quite back from the holidays. The traffic on the main avenues and cross streams were even sparse at times.
Casey Johnson, an heiress to the vast and extensive pharmaceuticals fortune, was found dead yesterday in Los Angeles. She was thirty years old. Her death comes on the heels of another young Hollywood celebrity, an actress named Brittany Murphy.
Casey had been renting the guest cottage on the property of a longtime family friend in West Hollywood. It was as if she'd come home to get out of the fray. Her life over the past couple of years had grown increasingly frenetic and even notorious in her public behavior.
When she was bad, she was a nightmare. A monster. A brat. A disaster waiting to happen. All those things. And when she was good, she was a sweet child. An intelligent girl named Casey. Who ran into trouble as she moved into womanhood.
It was somewhat jarring to the senses. There was a group of them hitting the late night clubs on Noyac and Route 27. It was a kind of “dare” for a lot of the girls. Paris seemed to be the one who had the fortitude or gumption or curiosity or whatever you want to call it, to get out there. That was considered somewhat “scandalous” in the “neighborhood” that she’d been out in a club at 2 a.m. Whether this was true or not, that was the story going around. And around. She was playing another version of the Lolita role. Remember that? And having her picture taken. All these girls loved (and love) having their picture taken.
That was, we now know, only the beginning of celebritization of Paris Hilton, teen-age daughter of the hotel heir. No one then would have believed that this child would make millions with the image that was first created in those Southampton summers. Paris turned out to be a cultural icon for a generation. I received her parents’ annual Christmas card this year with the entire family, lined up together, as they have been since way back when. Still together; always together. You look at Paris now and you see a clever woman who made a career in show business (and outside it) as a personality.
|The Hilton family Christmas card, 2009.|
|Clockwise from top left: Casey Johnson, Natalie Leeds Leventhal, and Alexandra Lind Rose, 2008; Casey in 2003; Casey with her father, Woody, 2004; Casey with Nicky and Paris Hilton, 2003; Bijou Phillips and Casey Johnson, 2004; Nicky Hilton, Nicole Richie, and Casey, 2003.|
|In the last few years we’ve learned from the columns that Casey had come out as a lesbian and was carrying on torturous (for somebody), arduous relationships with other young women who had a lot of time and (someone with) a lot of money. We also learned she adopted a child, a little girl whom she named Ava.
I don’t know what her relationship with her mother or her father was at this point. Estrangements between parents and child are common in families, far more common that many are willing to confide. And almost just as often, they heal. Both of Casey’s parents remarried after their divorce. Woody Johnson has started a second generation family with his young wife. And Sale Johnson married TV personality and former Minnesota Viking, Ahmad Rashad.
By age 30, now a subject for the tabloids and little else, Casey wasn’t a little girl anymore. She was a grown woman, a single mother with child. And looking much worse for the wear. But for the sweet child still dwelling somewhere within, hers was a face now bloated and distorted from extensive cosmetic surgery, from which she was looking neither younger or older but instead like someone harassed by demons. Los Angeles for Casey was what Los Angeles could always be for a certain type of young woman who goes out there to make her way. Nathaniel West wrote about it. So did Raymond Chandler. A bad turn. A dead end. A sadness. May her sweet soul now rest in peace.