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Posted at 11:43 AM ET, 01/ 8/2010

Is death the new sex tape?

By Liz Kelly

Casey Johnson at an event in early December 2009. (Getty Images)

Search your brains and be honest before you answer the following question: If I had asked you last Friday to tell me who Casey Johnson was, how would you have answered? My suspicion is there would have been an overwhelming chorus of "Who?" cut with a few tentative assertions about Johnson being the male heir of the Johnson & Johnson fortune.

All that changed on Monday when the Web -- and soon after, TV news -- was flooded with stories about the death of Johnson, the hard-partying heiress whose most recent claim to fame was a romantic attachment to Tila Tequila, herself a D-Lister. Johnson -- so far -- is crushing the competition in today's Buzziest Celebs poll (see Morning Mix). But a week ago, only regular readers of Page Six might have kept track of Johnson's shenanigans. She was hardly the new Paris Hilton. More like the Paris (Texas) Holiday Inn.

And where Hilton's fame was built on a sex tape, Johnson's seems to have hinged on her death. One could hardly escape the details this week -- about the circumstances, the shadowy adopted Kazakh daughter, the drama involving Johnson's dogs and the squalor which apparently was well hidden behind the doors of her Los Angeles home (One description: "Her house on Mulholland Drive is a mess. The electricity is off, there are rats, the pool is green. She was supposed to be evicted and her Porsche is being repossessed.").

Coming close on the heels of Brittany Murphy's surprising death, well, it does make one wonder what is going on in the Hollywood Hills. But Murphy, too, is another example of the same phenomenon, albeit to a lesser degree. She was the chick from "Clueless" and "Girl Interrupted" whose career peaked early and even stories of her sometimes erratic behavior were met with a ho-hum response until her untimely demise.

Is it how they died? The circumstances were gnarly, for sure, but neither Johnson nor Murphy attracted much attention with their tabloid-friendly lives while they lived them, so why do they fascinate in death?

You tell me. Share your thoughts in the comments section below...


UPDATE, 12:15 p.m. ET -- Some thoughts from Dr. Andrea Bonior, licensed clinical psychologist and author of the Express Baggage Check column:

Whenever a young, attractive person dies in mysterious ways, it grabs extra attention ... Additionally, death tends to enlarge the characteristics that people remember -- and I think there's a good bit of sordid curiosity here, in that Tila Tequila has been such an outrageous figure that there's a real hunger to see how her reactions will play out. Finally, these things tend to grow exponentially, as the more media coverage they receive, the more we believe we should be paying attention, and the more likely we are to revise history and remember her as perhaps being more famous than she was.

By Liz Kelly  | January 8, 2010; 11:43 AM ET
Categories:  Celebrities  
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Yeah. I had no idea who she was. Can't say I'm very interested. However, I think her death (and life) is much better covered in Celebritology than on the homepage. I was really surprised to see it there and thought it was a pretty poor choice of a lead story.
For Celebritology it absolutely makes sense.

Posted by: Roxie1 | January 8, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

I actually heard about it first on a football blog. Her dad is the owner of the NY Jets. Plus there was the Tila Tequila connection who was connected to Shawne Merriman of the Chargers late last year.

Sex tapes are passe. If even Verne Troyer has one, they just don't generate attention anymore. So, you gotta step it up a notch. The problem is what do you do for an encore of a messy death?

Posted by: epjd | January 8, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Oh and Paris, Texas is now insulted by the comparison to Ms. Johnson.

Posted by: epjd | January 8, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm not a psychologist and I don't play one on TV, but my personal opinion is that the apparent glamour of a celeb's life is unravelled upon their death, and that fascinates people. A bit of schadenfreude, perhaps? They seem to "have it all", yet once you scratch the surface, it's quite obvious they don't. Some of them are just ordinary and live their lives like the rest of us (albeit with a boatload more money), but some are really messed-up and have serious issues.

Posted by: Californian11 | January 8, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

c'mon. Has everyone forgotten the circus around Anna Nicole Smith's death? It's always been a publicity magnate. In the US, goes back at least to Alexander Hamilton.

Posted by: reddragon1 | January 8, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

c'mon. Has everyone forgotten the circus around Anna Nicole Smith's death?

Excellent point. And don't forget, even more recently, Michael Jackson. Great career move, but too bad their not around to enjoy it.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 8, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

...but too bad they're not around to enjoy it.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 8, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse


I had considered MJ also, but ANS was much more famous for the way she died and the circus afterward. Saint Michael was such an ongoing circus that the postmortem hoopla was about what you'd expect. (Well maybe I wouldna predicted the Staples Center, but still.)

Posted by: reddragon1 | January 8, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

reddragon, you have a point, although it was certainly not for lack of trying by ANS and her people during her lifetime.

BTW, did you see where the MJ funeral extravaganza at the Staples Center has been nominated for an Outstanding Variety TV program award by the NAACP Image Awards? Our beloved Pookie reported Wednesday that it's up against "a Wanda Sykes stand-up special, the Mark Twain Prize ceremonies at the Kennedy Center (the prize went to Bill Cosby), the BET Awards, and the inaugural celebration/concert for President Obama at the Lincoln Memorial":

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 8, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Nosy, you have to be kidding! That is so wrong on so many levels. But then again, Michaels not really dead now is he?

By the way, Happy Birthday to the King who is not dead either. (Saw him in Vegas just 2 months ago!)

Posted by: hodie | January 8, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

That is so wrong on so many levels.

So true. But our Pookie would never kid about a thing like that.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 8, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Fav quote: "Human nature is so well disposed towards those who are in interesting situations that a young person who either marries or dies is sure of being kindly spoken of."
- Jane Austen, "Emma"

Posted by: Pokey1 | January 8, 2010 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Excellent citation, Pokey. Proving that snark is nothing new!

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | January 8, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I had heard of Casey Johnson before.

She was featured along with the other socialite party girls in a Vanity Fair article several years.

I don't know about death being the new sex tape. She was really well known in the party/socialite circle. She just didn't happen to have tv shows like Paris/Nikki/Nicole Richie.

Plus in other odd news...Ahmad Rashad is Casey's step-father...

Posted by: honeylamb | January 10, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Is celebrity journalism the new stupid?

Posted by: carlaclaws | January 10, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Elvis is eating donuts with Jim Morrison in a street cafe in Paris. Michael Jackson is at the next table, checking his make-up.

Brittany is waiting on the tables while Casey is bussing dishes in the back.

Posted by: LisaJain1 | January 10, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

If you had not inserted a picture of Casey Johnson at the top of the story I would not have known whom you were talking about. I remember hearing about the death of some young faux celebrity, but the name "Casey Johnson" had not fully registered in my consciousness, though I suppose it has now. Thanks WP for stuffing the name of yet another insignificant (to me) media creature into my brain, right alongside Ivana Trump and Paris Hilton and whatshername, the former modern Mouseketeer who shaved her head. See? I can almost forget this stuff if I really try.

Posted by: weanderson | January 10, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

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