Former NFL player Demetrious Johnson dies at 61

The St. Louis native who played for five seasons in the NFL and in retirement helped thousands through a charitable foundation that bore his name, died at 61.

ST. LOUIS — Demetrious Johnson, the St. Louis native who played for five seasons in the NFL and in retirement helped thousands through a charitable foundation that bore his name, died Saturday. He was 61.

Family members said Johnson died of an aortic dissection, a rare condition in which a tear occurs in the inner layer of the body’s main artery, at a St. Louis hospital.

“His family and friends are saddened by this loss. His big heart and love for his community will never be forgotten,” his daughter, Ashley Chin, said.

Johnson was born on July 21, 1961, the youngest of eight children raised by a single mother in the Darst-Webbe Public Housing Project south of downtown St. Louis.

Following a stellar high school career playing for McKinley High School, Johnson earned a full athletic scholarship to attend the University of Missouri. Johnson graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education.

As a defensive back for the Tigers, he was named a Big Eight Conference All-Star. He went on to be drafted in the fifth round of the 1983 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. After four seasons, he was traded to the Miami Dolphins, where he played during the 1986–87 season.

Johnson founded the Demetrious Johnson Charitable Foundation in 1993 to help better the lives of underprivileged children and families in the St. Louis area. The organization was often most visible around the holidays when it hosted numerous food and toy drives and giveaways.

Tributes to Johnson started pouring in Saturday afternoon on social media.

“There may have some who donated more money to our town then my friend, Demetrious Johnson, but nobody donated more heart. We will never have another one like him,” 5 On Your Side sports director Frank Cusumano said.

Former St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay called Johnson an “outstanding St. Louisian who did a lot for (the) community.”

Mizzou head football coach Eli Drinkwitz wrote that his heart is heavy.

“He was a friend, mentor and servant to so many. Prayers for his family and loved ones this holiday season. I’m going to miss my friend,” he said.

“I was honored to be involved in numerous fundraisers for his charitable foundation and to have him on my Sunday night show. (Demetrious) never forgot his (St. Louis) roots. The man did a ton to improve lives in his community. Rest in peace, DJ,” said former St. Louis media personality Steve Savard.

After retiring from the NFL, Johnson also worked as a national sales manager for Covidien (formerly Sherwood Medical Company) and hosted shows on St. Louis radio station WHHL-FM (Hot 104.1) and Detroit radio station WFDF-AM. He also served as the agent for Mizzou receiver Luther Burden III’s name, image and likeness (NIL) endorsement deals.

In addition to his daughter, Ashley, Johnson is survived by several other family members, including his high school sweetheart and wife of 37 years, Pat; daughters Taylore, Alexandria, Lakisha and Sydney; and son, Jalen.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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