Maya Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson, dies at 77

Johnson died peacefully Wednesday morning at his home in Oakland

Guy Johnson, the son and only child of late poet Maya Angelou, has died at age 77.

Angelou’s official Facebook account confirmed that Johnson, also a poet, author, civil rights activist, and politician, died peacefully Wednesday morning at his home in Oakland.

“Mr. GUY JOHNSON passed away peacefully at his home this morning in Oakland, California. Arrangements will be made and announced in the coming days. We ask that you respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time. Thank you for your prayers and words of comfort and strength,” the post read.

Though was not as well known as his prolific mother, Johnson also became a poet and novelist.

Per his bio via Penguin Random House, Johnson attended college in Egypt and after graduating, he managed a bar on Spain’s Costa del Sol, ran a photo-safari service from London through Morocco and Algeria to the Spanish Sahara, and worked on the oil rigs in Kuwait. 

In 1962, on a trip with his mother, Johnson broke his neck in a car accident in Ghana, leading to months of difficult recovery and a permanent injury that continued to impact his health for years afterward.

In the early 1980s, Johnson and his late mother spent hundreds of thousands of dollars searching for his son Colin Ashanti Johnson after he was kidnapped at age 5 by his mother, the Los Angeles Times reported.  At the time, Johnson had legal custody of his son after divorcing his ex-wife Sharon, who had visiting rights once a month. The child went missing for four years until he was reunited with his father, the report says.

When Johnson and his mother appeared together on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday on OWN in 2013, he said that he had no problem with his mother’s success.

“No, I didn’t,” he told Oprah on the episode. “I grew up in her light. Sometimes I wasn’t worthy of it, but it has always been an experience that expanded me.”

In 2019, Johnson teamed with producers David Michael Rich, and J. Todd Harris (Heathers, Doctor Zhivago) on a one-woman Broadway show titled Phenomenal Woman: An Evening With Maya Angelou, based on Angelou’s life and work, theGrio reported.

According to a press release sent out at the time, the project promised to bring Angelou’s writings to live theater along with “some private musings that have never before been made public,” per The Hollywood Reporter.

Guy Johnson
Guy Johnson (Credit: YouTube screenshot)

“My mother lived an extraordinary life,” Johnson said in 2019, per the THR report. “She brought a sense of passion to living and invested herself wholly in it. What she wanted most was justice for all human beings, and the freedom to experience joy and laughter. We hope to capture her joie de vivre. We’re going to include some private anecdotes that will be a revelation to audiences. I’m pleased to be working with this team in bringing her story to life and can’t wait for the public to experience it.”

Most recently, Johnson played a significant role in choosing Angelou’s image for the U.S. quarter as part of the American Women Quarters Program. The quarter depicts Angelou with her arms outstretched and uplifted; behind her is a bird in flight and a rising sun, per a Grio report. According to the Mint, the images are meant to symbolize the way she lived her life and are inspired by her poetry. 

“One of the reasons I chose that image is, first off, I know how difficult it is to capture the actual essence and animus of a human being on a metal coin, and I thought that picture with the bird behind her, the wings and her arms out gave some sense of the style that she had, the grace that she had,” Johnson said in an interview with KRON, My Fox 8 reports.

“She was a dancer for many years, and I really thought that was the best image of her,” he added.

At the time of his passing, Johnson was working with Wake Forest University in North Carolina on an artist-in-residence program in his mother’s name. The school issued a statement after Johnson’s death was announced Thursday.

“We are saddened by the loss of Maya Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson, and send our sincere condolences to his family,” the statement read. “Mr. Johnson was a good friend to Wake Forest and recently worked with the university to establish the Maya Angelou Artist-in-Residence Award to honor his mother’s legacy, celebrate exceptional artists and inspire future generations of Wake Forest students.”

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