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The Daughter Casey Johnson Left Behind

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What is the psychological fate of little Ava-Monroe?

Casey Johnson with Ava-Monroe

Ronda Kaysen: Casey Johnson might have been a billionaire heiress, but she reportedly died alone in a filthy, rat-infested apartment with her 3-year-old daughter in her parents' custody. The death of Casey Johnson is not only a story of a spoiled rich girl gone wild, but also a cautionary tale of just how much havoc addiction can wreak on a family and the children left behind.

Casey's end -- she presumably died of a drug overdose complicated by diabetes, her body not found for a week -- is tragic in its own right. Add her adopted daughter Ava-Monroe to the equation and you have a sad story of a little girl orphaned not once, but twice.

"It's really tragic. [Ava's] psychological development and wellness will really depend on how she is cared for," says momlogic expert and New York City psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor.

Casey adopted Ava in 2007 from Kazakhstan after her godmother, Diandra Douglas (Michael Douglas's ex-wife), adopted her own child from there. Earlier, Casey had tried to adopt a child from Cambodia, but the country had cracked down on international adoption. When she met her godmother's child, she was smitten.

"She's the most beautiful baby I've ever seen," Casey told MTV. "She's blond-haired, blue-eyed, looks just like Diandra, and I thought, 'Oh, my gosh! This is what I'm going to do.'"

Casey brought her own little girl home from Kazakhstan and named her Ava-Monroe, after Marilyn Monroe, with whom she deeply identified. She planned to raise Ava as she had been raised: with all of her material desires met. "Obviously I want her to look the best that she can, the cutest that she can," she said. "So I'm going to buy her a lot of clothes."

It's exactly that attitude of reckless indulgence that can lead to addiction, says momlogic expert Jennifer Ginsberg, a Los Angeles-based addiction specialist. "When parents overindulge their children, thinking that's an effective form of parenting, it just creates an empty space because none of that stuff fills you up."

Casey, who talked about never learning financial limits and having every materialistic whim indulged, had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse. Her family pressured her to go into treatment, but she refused. Even motherhood couldn't straighten her out. She reportedly woke Ava up in the middle of the night to play with her when she was high. And, according to reports, she spent as little as 10 minutes a day with her, the rest of the time leaving her in the care of nannies.

"The people who suffer the most typically are the children," Taylor said. "All addicts care about is getting the drug, so they don't take care of their kids. All they care about is their next high."

In recent months, Casey's life tumbled out of control. Child Protective Services was called on numerous occasions, according to reports, and eventually Casey's mother, Sale Johnson, took custody of Ava. The Johnsons cut her off, shutting her out of her hefty trust fund.

"Her family couldn't handle her behavior and lack of respect, so they cut her off," a friend of Casey's told People magazine. "They thought it would teach her to turn things around."

Casey and her fiancée, reality TV star Tila Tequila, went to New York in September to win back custody. They returned empty-handed.

Once Ava was out of her care, Casey spiraled more out of control. "Just a few months ago, she was living like a crazy person," the friend told People. "Super-erratic behavior. People could barely be around her."

Casey's body was found six days after her last Twitter update in an apartment filled with dirty dishes, rats, and trash. The daughter she left behind has an uncertain emotional future. Her life until now has likely been chaotic and unstable. She was adopted when she was roughly a year old, meaning she spent her first year in at least one other person's or institution's care. By 3, she's already lost at least two families. She's also being raised by the woman who raised Casey, and it's possible Sale could repeat the same mistakes that sent Casey down such a tragic path.

"She's had a lot of transitions at a very early age. She's had a lot of disruptions from birth to now, and who knows what chaos she experienced," said Taylor. "It's more trauma. It's another loss."

This isn't the first drug-related death in the Johnson family. In 1975, Woody Johnson, Casey's father and the owner of the New York Jets, lost his 25-year-old brother Keith to a cocaine overdose. At the time of his death, police found hypodermic needles, a spoon, and a plastic bag stuffed with white powder in Keith's closet. A month later, Woody's 22-year-old brother Billy died in a motorcycle accident.

By all accounts, Casey was spoiled by her parents. She was showered with lavish gifts at an early age, like a Chanel bag when she was 12 and a $17,000 gold Cartier watch when she was 15.

"I have so much stuff that, you know, it's almost embarrassing, it really is," she told the New York Post in 2008. "I have nothing left to want."

Diagnosed with diabetes at age 8, her parents turned her into something of a poster child for diabetes when she reportedly only wanted to be a normal kid like everyone else. She struggled with depression and mental illness. Rather than feed her spirit, her vast wealth only fed her propensity for addiction.

"I don't think she wanted to be a poster child. She wanted to be a healthy, normal kid. But she always felt she was different. She was very sad and searching to be loved," a family friend told the New York Daily News.

Perhaps with Ava, Sale and Woody can have a second chance to do right by their daughter. It's a good sign that Casey's parents finally cut her off -- even if it was too late for her. And it's good that they took Ava out of her home. Both of these actions are signs that Sale and Woody have come to their senses about their daughter, says Ginsberg, and speaks highly of Ava's prospects.

"I'm very hopeful that the grandparents love her and that she'll just get loved and nurtured and her emotional needs will be met rather than her material desires," Ginsberg said.

casey johnson

Casey Johnson Gallery

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127 comments so far | Post a comment now
ashley January 8, 2010, 5:21 AM

SO, of course, blame the parents for her addiction.

chris January 8, 2010, 6:44 AM

No matter what your upbringing is at some point in every person life you need to stop blaming your parents and decide to be accountable for yourself. What a shameful mother she was herself and I don’t blame her “addictions” for it. What mother only spends 10 minutes a day with their child? This woman was 30 years old, it’s not like she was a teenager or just 20. She should of have more natural born common sense at that age.

me January 8, 2010, 8:44 AM

This woman needed some help way back when her and her aunt were dueling over the boyfriend issue. That was probably when she first began fostering mental issues.
Most of these high celebrities do not need each other to hang onto. They need a friend outside of the jetset, that can keep them stable and balanced. But of course not one of them would consider being of friend of mine., because I am not rich, or flamboyant. I am well balanced, and down to earth, and a good person. Much too boring for the jet set. But I know how to have fun, without alcohol, drugs, or getting arrested. My kids are happy and well adjusted. And guess what I am a single parent.
So many have more money than they have common sense.

Anonymous January 8, 2010, 10:17 AM

Six days before anyone realized they hadn’t heard from her? Where was Tila - her finacee for six days? No one truly loved this woman or she wouldn’t have been died for six days before someone noticed.

Anonymous January 8, 2010, 12:14 PM

Tila…makes me sick. If she truely loved her she would of been with or spoken with her repeatedly each day.

RIP..troubled soul!.


Melissa January 8, 2010, 12:15 PM

I really don’t think you should have blamed her parents for her problems..

ramona January 8, 2010, 1:34 PM

my heart goes out to her family, they had no idea what all of the money would do or could of done. there are alot of families just like the johnsons, maybe not as much money but still over indulged. so sad….

Mic January 8, 2010, 2:35 PM

I have the same question as Anonymous, Tila supposedly loved her soooo much, blah, blah, blah, yet, she wasn’t even discovered for 6 days? And the was she was living? I think Tila was definitely bad for her, & I can’t stand her. She is a walking herpe.

Gigohead  January 8, 2010, 8:00 PM

How bewildering that money can buy you humans! She wanted a baby because she was blonde and pretty and can buy her pretty clothes! How immature and insane! Clearly this broad was bipolar! No right child social agency in America will give her a kid! I swear, its chicks like her that make me groan when I see a celebrity adopting a kid outside the US. Why is Diandra Douglas even adopting kids also? Her son is a MESS!! even got a GF to do jail time for bringing him drugs! crazy!!!

Megan January 12, 2010, 11:02 PM

Although I agree that Tila should have been in contact with Casey the last six days of her life, I also want to know where her parents were for the last 6 days too? Everyone wants to tall sh*t on Tila, but where were they? They knew Casey had issues, but the only thing her parents did was cut her off from her trustfund. Being a parent is more thanjust financially supporting someone.

Heather January 30, 2010, 5:26 PM

I don’t think the author or the experts quoted in the piece were purely blaming the parents, but recognizing that Johnson’s upbringing of extreme, excessive materialism signified there was probably something missing in the emotional realm. That said, sometimes such tragedies can’t be neatly explained. It would seem, though that being “the girl who had everything,” did not yield Casey Johnson a happy life. To the contrary, she was unprepared for real life, which does not spare anyone its slings and arrows—not the beautiful, not the rich, not even the greatly loved. Sadly, her parents may indeed have loved her and maybe they expressed it unwisely through overindulgence, only realizing their mistake too late. Ms. Ginsberg’s comment at the end of the piece is lovely — I, too, hope Ava’s grandparents, while not balaming themselves, approach raising their granddaughter with a more down-to-earth philosophy. Too much of anything—protection, wealth, focus, etc. is rarely a good preparation for life.

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