BRONZEVILLE — Paul Johnson had an uncanny ability to turn a roomful of strangers into friends, his loved ones said.
The legendary House DJ died this week from complications from coronavirus. He was 50.
The South Side native had been ill with COVID-19 for weeks at Little Company of Mary Hospital, chronicling his sickness on Instagram. Friends and family were hopeful when Johnson was taken off the ventilator last week, able to breathe on his own. But his condition deteriorated and he died Wednesday.
When DJ Deeon heard his longtime friend had died, he thought of all the times Johnson’s light shone and the people who would come up to him after sets to compliment his work. He thought of that time in the studio 30 years ago when the two of them threw an all-night party, spinning records and dancing with girls.
“His reach was universal. He was just a cool, friendly guy. And there was nothing he wouldn’t share with you,” Deeon said. “He would take my cassettes, remaster them, and make them suitable enough to put them out there.”
Johnson was even packing the venues back then, playing sets at South Side joints like Hummingbird and Mr. G’s.
DJ CeaseDays also benefitted from Johnson’s generosity, meeting the legend when he was just a 16-year-old with a dream of making music. They formed a bond and CeaseDays went to Johnson again and again over the years for advice. When CeaseDays was doing radio at the University of Illinois, Johnson would happily stop by to talk about his latest project or about House music.
Even when tragedies befell Johnson — an accidental shooting in 1987 led to him needing to use a wheelchair, and a car crash in 2010 led to two his limbs being amputated — he showed up for the people he loved, a friend previously said.
While tragedy may have robbed Johnson of his legs, it did not rob him of his passion for touching people with his music, CeaseDays said.
“I’m seeing all these posts on social media that say he ‘wasn’t confined to his wheelchair,’ and that’s the reality of it. It never stopped him, and he was so much bigger than that,” CeaseDays said.
If Kanye West and Chance The Rapper put Chicago hip hop on the map, Johnson definitely did the same for House music, CeaseDays said. And no matter how high his star ascended, he always took care of home first: It was nothing to return from huge fest overseas to spin at a neighborhood fair in Pilsen or to stop by a friend’s set in support, CeaseDays said.
DJ Mr. Latin House remembers Johnson as the man who would stop playing music mid-set if people weren’t dancing, telling them to get on the floor. And without hesitation, they did.
“That’s the way Paul touches people, and people respected him just for that,” Latin House said.
Johnson lent his talents to Latin House’s events, the two men forming a familial bond over the years. When Johnson occasionally crashed at Latin House’s place, his family made sure it felt like home. It was a small sacrifice for a man whose generosity was boundless, Latin House said.
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