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Born into great wealth, Casey Johnson struggled in L.A. fast lane

January 5, 2010 |  6:21 pm

Casey Johnson was an heiress to one of the world’s great fortunes, grew up privileged in Manhattan with socialites Paris and Nicky Hilton and eventually moved to Los Angeles where she became a familiar face in the Hollywood party scene.

But amid a gilded existence Johnson also struggled. She was diagnosed with diabetes, battled drug addiction, had strained relations with her family and last month was hit with criminal charges for allegedly breaking into the home of a girlfriend and taking $22,000 in property.

On Monday, the 30-year-old was found dead at her Westside home. A definitive cause won’t be clear for more than a month, according to Ed Winter of the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office.

But a preliminary investigation by police homicide investigators found nothing to suggest that Johnson died of anything other natural causes. And sources within the police department -- who spoke on the condition that they not be named because it was an ongoing investigation -- believe the cause is “medically related.” An autopsy performed Tuesday was inconclusive and the cause of death was deferred four to six weeks, pending the outcome of toxicology tests, Winter said.

Winter said his office had received information that Johnson had a history of diabetes but could not immediately say what role, if any, it played in her death. “We are still conducting our investigation,” Winter said.

The personal life of Johnson, the daughter of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and the girlfriend of reality TV star Tila Tequila, has long been a staple for the celebrity gossip sites and tabloids including Page Six, which dubbed her the “baby-oil heiress.” Johnson called it “the stupidest mistake of my life" to turn down an invitation from pal Paris Hilton to co-star on “The Simple Life.”  The role went to Nicole Richie. Johnson was featured in “It Girls,” a 2002 documentary about the young and rich in Manhattan.

There were signs of strain in Johnson’s life in the last few years.

She became locked in a struggle with her mother over custody of Ava-Monroe, a baby Johnson adopted in 2007 from Kazakhstan.

Most recently Johnson was arrested and charged in December in connection with a break-in at the home of Jasmine Lennard, another reality television star and former girlfriend. Johnson was charged with first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property after allegedly taking $22,000 in clothing, jewelry, handbags, personal mail and other items. Johnson pleaded not guilty and was due back in court Feb. 11 for a preliminary hearing.

On Tuesday, Friends expressed sadness at her untimely passing. "I feel so sad right now, my heart is in pain. Just lost a longtime friend. My heart goes out to her family. R.I.P. Casey Johnson," Paris Hilton wrote on her Twitter page. "In bed crying, looking at baby pictures of Casey, Nicky and I. I feel so upset. I feel like I’ve lost a sister. My heart is broken."

-- Andrew Blankstein