“Is This The Call?”: Spreading The News of an Inevitable Death


This is a picture of me and my best friend of over thirty years, Craig Ashton Johnson, taken at my first wedding where later that day, he made the opening welcome to our gathered guests.  He was sober and healthy and happy and everyone there was aware of the critical role he played in my life.

There was not one person who ever met Craig who didn’t love him instantly.  He was THAT person to an infinite number of people, so when just yesterday I was charged with contacting his East Coast friends to let them know that he had been found dead in a hotel room somewhere in Los Angeles, the list of phone calls and e-mails to those in his life became longer and longer and longer.

The first call I made was to a dear friend of his.  When she picked up the phone, one of the first things she said was, “Is this the call?”  Another friend, just a few hours later said the exact same thing.  We have been waiting for “the call” for years.

Crystal meth, the most insidious of drugs had turned him into a COMPLETELY different Craig.  The last time I saw him he was in a rage that made the veins in his neck pop out.  I was the recipient of that rage and it ended our friendship.  For a little over a year, I hadn’t reached out to any of his friends to find out how he was doing and I absolutely felt and still feel okay with that decision.  So, just last week when a friend of his forwarded me an e-mail that clearly described the worst of his downward spirals there was no question in my mind that “that call” would be coming very soon.

Craig made the very deliberate decision to end his life.  Without going into details, because in the end how it happened would haunt and devastate too many people, it actually took someone else to point out to me the parallels to my mother’s own suicide exactly thirty years ago. They were both a long time coming and in the end, although it seems heartless and callous to say,  there was a great sense of relief.

The reactions on the phone from his dearest of friends were varied.  Those of us who had been in the trenches of his addiction for so many years reacted like me–numb, relieved and guilty that we couldn’t cry.  Others sobbed and couldn’t speak.  We all began posting pictures and tributes on Facebook that have made us all smile and tear up.  He was a magnificent person.

He was “Uncle Craig” to his friend’s children. He drove them to supermarkets and let them pick out all the candy they wanted.  He loved animals.  He loved the Stones.  He loved Elton John.  He chain-smoked and drank coffee by the gallon.  He loved Honeycomb cereal.  He was brilliant and had a memory like an elephant.  He spent his weekends catching up with all of his friends on the phone.  He would devote hours to us all.  He was the funniest person I knew.

I will never get to drive cross-country with him and sing our way through every Elton John album from beginning to end.  There are so many ‘nevers‘ for so many but we all did what we could to make everything a possibility.  We all did everything we could.



  1. Rachel Abroms

    This is absolutely beautiful Gayle. Makes me weep! The only thing you missed is his deep love of milk and pb and j. He bought milk by the gallons and filled up my fridge with them. He was so in love with my dog Velvet that we used to joke around about them getting married. I can tell she misses him terrible. I miss him so much! Thank you so much for your beautiful words, Rachel

  2. jane_e

    So heartbreaking! I guess most all of us have had a friend like this at one time or another and no matter how much we wanted things to be different, they just never would be.

  3. Karen

    So sad, some people just cannot be helped. Your eulogy is perfect & makes these tragedies resonate. 😔

  4. valerie

    i remember the day he was born, playing legos, watching the moon landing with him, going to camp with him, climbing trees, spending all the holidays together. When one of my kids and myself visited him after one of his rehab stints they ran around the mall together, went backwards up escalators, and chased after Courtney Love. Being in Kensington High Street market with him and his mother telling him she really would buy him a new coat not the second hand one he wanted. He came back to attend my kids wedding and see my granddaughter right after she was born. Craig avoided me when he was high because he knew i could tell. I never gave up on him, when many others abandoned him. I was never angry with him, because I understood he had a mental health disorder. He knew I never judged him and would come to him on a moments notice.
    He truly was more of my younger brother than the only cousin he had.

  5. Glen Rock

    I first met Craig when we were roommates at Stepping Stone in 2013. We immediately clicked and he became one of my best friends. I just talked with him several weeks ago and he was doing so well and happy to be in graduate school. I’m still in shock of his passing. Rachel and Gayle let me know if there is anything I can do!
    Glen Rock

  6. Andrew Dean Hunt

    He was always so kind to me. Our appreciation for a great sense of humor brought he and I closer together as ‘brothers in recovery’. I looked up to him.

  7. Heartbreaking…I met Craig in the mid 90’s when I got sober from alcohol and we went to meetings and home groups together. He was everything you say…a wonderful sweet caring man. I moved to NYC in 2006 and then back this past November. I ran into Craig at a Saturday meeting, as recently as 3 weeks or so ago…and he’d changed. He wasn’t angry, but there was a chasm there. Crystal Meth kills…slowly but surely. I didn’t expect this but after reading your blog…not surprised. I’m so glad you had all of those early memories and experiences and smiles. I pray he is at peace now…and maybe someone will learn from his death and quite Crystal, before Crystal quits them. Thank you for sharing this. He touched so many hearts!!!

  8. I’ve known Craig for over 14 years. I feel numb… Thank you for sharing on such an important topic. I have never heard of a Crystal Meth happy ending – unless complete abstinence is obtained. RIP Craig.

  9. “the more sadness that is carved into your soul, the more joy you can contain.” I am reminded in moments like this that feeling sadness is better than feeling nothing. We’re so incredibly, impossibly lucky to be even here — at all. Every day is a giant, cosmic miracle. Sending you light and so, so much love.

  10. Derick Sapien

    Craig! 😢 This is such sad news. RIP my friend. 💔

  11. I met Craig when he entered rehab in San Diego and we connected over the smallest detail. Both our SSNs started with 00, Double zero, They had been issued in Maine. We didn’t get to know each other well but every time I saw him it brought smiles to both our faces. His death hit me like a 2×4. I pray he has found rest, peace, and healing. He will be missed. (Thank you Gayle for posting this.)

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