Longtime Star Tribune columnist C.J., one of the most well-known media figures in the Twin Cities, has retired after nearly 30 years of writing about local personalities.
C.J., whose full name is Cheryl Johnson, joined the Star Tribune in 1986 and spent several years as a metro news reporter before the September 1989 debut of “Johnson & Eskola,” a gossipy personality column she wrote with contributions from then-WCCO radio reporter Eric Eskola.
The lead item in their first column was about Prince, the Minneapolis music superstar who would provide fodder for countless C.J. columns in the years to come.
Eskola bowed out not long after, citing the pressure of other responsibilities, and Johnson continued solo from January 1990 until now. Her final column will appear Sept. 10.
In a 2007 “Minnesota Monthly” profile of C.J., former Star Tribune editor Tim McGuire said that the idea of giving her a column was meant to counter criticism that the paper was “too serious, too stiff, too boring. The column was meant to be edgy.”
And for nearly three decades, it was.
“She brought a distinctive element, a crossover of news and celebrity reporting,” said Maureen McCarthy, her longtime editor. “I think she was uniquely suited to it, because you have to identify stories and write about people in a way they don’t necessarily want to be written about.
“She gave a lot of flak and she took a lot of flak,” McCarthy added. “You have to be thick-skinned to do that for decades, as she did.”
Fancy Ray McCloney, a Twin Cities entertainer, appeared frequently in C.J.’s column. He called her “a pal, a friend, an adversary — everything.
“She’s a special talent,” McCloney said. “She’s controversial, she’s adversarial, she rubs people the wrong way, she makes people laugh. She is so multifaceted and so complex.”
Over the years, C.J. chronicled the doings of local entertainers, politicians, TV anchors and socialites. Some enjoyed the attention, while others bristled at it.
She declined to comment on her future plans.
“I love observing people; it’s always fun,” C.J. said in a 2013 interview with entertainment blogger K Nicola Dyes, adding, “A mouthy black woman is still something kind of hard for America to deal with.”