UC Berkeley student Cody Johnson dies at 20


UC Berkeley sophomore Cody Johnson, who died on Thanksgiving, was known for his genuine smile. He was 20 years old.

Despite coming from a difficult background, Johnson soared above challenges and devoted himself to learning. He had a range of talents, with interests including video games and Japanese culture. He loved to act, play guitar, dance and write poetry.

“He was special talent — a really brilliant young man, especially in the humanities,” said former high school teacher Terry Henderson, who added that Johnson was not just a student but a friend. “When we were together in class, it was teacher-to-student. But when you’re talking about literature and ideas, you become equals.”

Johnson emancipated himself when he was a junior at University Senior High School in Los Angeles and, as a foster care youth, lived with faculty members he had grown close to before moving to Berkeley. After overcoming family issues and personal struggles, he graduated at the top of his class and spoke at his high school graduation.

On Thanksgiving morning, Johnson could not be woken up by his roommate and housemates, who then alerted authorities. The Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau said it is waiting for toxicology results from the labs before announcing the cause of death, a process that could take two months.

He hoped to become an English teacher and was always reading, Henderson said.

Another of his passions was Japanese art and music. Johnson shared his passion by preparing Japanese food for housemates at his co-op, Stebbins Hall.

Johnson is remembered most fondly for his act in a talent show last month, where he lip-synced and danced to one of his favorite Japanese songs, shedding his shyness for the night.

“You could see the music video playing on the computer screen in the corner, and he had the dance routine down perfectly,” said Torey Kocsik, Stebbins’ house manager and a UC Berkeley senior. “He was grinning the entire time.”

Fellow housemate and UC Berkeley junior Rigoberto Chavez, who remembered the routine as his favorite memory of his close friend, said Johnson’s “reassuring smile” was infectious.

“Independent of whatever personal problems he was encountering, he never projected any negative emotions and always maintained his composure — something I truly admire,” Chavez said.

Berkeley Student Cooperative President and UC Berkeley senior Brenna Fallon said members of Stebbins will determine the most appropriate way to remember Johnson and notify the co-op community if there is a memorial service.

“Johnson was one of the most genuinely sweet people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know,” Kocsik said. “I got to watch him break out of his shell and become a part of our family.”

Contact Virgie Hoban at [email protected].

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  • Codys Mom

    This is Cody Johnsons mother.someone posted a comment here that this is disrespectful to his family and the few people that cared for him.and it is.I saw my son three months ago and he did nothing but talk to me about his future plans.After seeing him and speaking to him I do not believe he took his own life.It’s sad that only two of his friends offered their condolances to our family who loved him dearly.I wish that all these people would stop being fixated on how he died and think more about how he lived and all the wonderful things he stood for and accomplished in such a short time.I am honered to have been chosen to be a mother to such a brilliant son.
    In any case no one here is qualified to speculate the cause of my sons death.It makes me sad to see students at Berkelely so narrow minded and self rightous,they should offer classes on good manners there. and to whom it may concern I would like these postings removed.

  • Uni Student

    I go to University High school now. I did not know Cody, but I was extremely saddened to hear of his death. My brother was in the English class that Cody helped to teach. He had nothing but fond memories of him. I don’t know the cause of his death, nor do I think that people should dwell on it. The purpose of this article is to share his accomplishments and the mark he left on the world, not to analyze his mental condition.

  • C.

    I’ve known Cody since my senior year in high school. He was a total sweetheart. Commenters, please don’t make assumptions about him.



  • Travis Cheng

    I was very shocked and sad to find out that Cody passed away. I remember showing him around Stebbins when he was considering applying for housing in co-ops, and several months later, receiving a feedback from him saying that he got into Stebbins. I wish him rest in peace.

  • Disappointed reader

    I didn’t know Cody, and now I never will, but I will at least have more respect for him than half of the people in this discussion. It absolutely disgusts me that there are people trying to argue for greek life and discuss ODing right now. Why don’t you put yourself in his shoes? If you were so unhappy that you decided to take your life would you want someone to blatantly be unfeeling and uncaring enough to add their own unrelated personal agenda to a page that is meant for people who give a damn to pay their respects? This had nothing to do with a drug issue, he did not OD as a matter of recreation. If he had hung himself instead would you be arguing that they should rake through houses to find rope? In fact, how do you even know he didn’t get the drugs from someone in greek life? The point is, you have no place posting on the page. If you have something to say do it somewhere else and take what very little pride you have left with you so the people who actually care can have a nice place to enjoy his life. As someone said before, the discussion should relate to all things Cody. I’m sure his family and friends don’t appreciate your polluting the conversation, so please take your asinine comments to an area they belong, which since you obviously don’t know the proper place, is not here. Thanks.

    RIP Cody.

    • Codys mom

      Thank you for posting this,all you say is true

  • Torey Kocsik

    This is Torey Kocsik, the house manager of Stebbins that’s quoted in the article. I knew Cody as well as, if not better than, anyone in my house. My bedroom shares a wall with Cody’s room. Every morning when I leave for class, I have to acknowledge the flowers and notes placed outside of his bedroom door.

    I want to make this explicitly clear: Cody did NOT OD. This was a probable suicide (I have to say probable, because the police can’t officially confirm this until they get the results of the toxicology report, but every sign points towards suicide). Cody was a good kid, barely drank, never did drugs. This is in no way comparable to the incident that happened at Cloyne three years ago or to anything in the greek system. This is an issue of mental health, if anything.

    I was told to stay as neutral as possible and not to inform the Daily Cal that this was a suicide but now that the article has already gone to print, it doesn’t really matter any more. It makes me incredibly sad to realize that just because Cody happened to live in a coop for part of a semester, many people in the Berkeley community will assume that this was in some way related to drugs, which it absolutely was not.

    Please have some respect for Cody and, as someone mentioned, don’t try to politicize this.

    • Calipenguin

      We all mourn the death of such a young Bear and I agree about not politicizing this tragedy. As reasonable adults though we should work towards preventing suicides. If there is a community drug problem that contributed to the ease of his probable suicide or OD then we must address that problem instead of letting respect for the dead obscure that problem. You knew him well and I have no reason to doubt your description of Cody’s clean lifestyle. However, if he knew he could commit suicide by ransacking adjacent rooms for powerful narcotics or sedatives then that is still a problem which must be addressed. I’m sure you’ll do your best as house manager to run a tight ship and we’ll do our best to check up on fellow students who seem depressed.

      • potato

        I do believe that you mean well Cali. But even the hypothetical of Cody “ransacking” narcotics or sedatives is a sooo strange to me.

        Have you been to Stebbins Co-op? These are students who are playing board games, watching movies, and baking snacks on a friday night.

      • FormerStebbinite

        Clearly you have a lack of respect for any factual information. It is not your position to address anything, especially when you don’t know the situation.

    • Cal Alum 03

      This is a horrible tragedy and my thoughts go out to his friends. I didn’t know Cody but remember the best in him and make that a part of what you will take with you through life.

      If it is a case of suicide, then everyone should really take notice and raise awareness. It’s simply something that people ignore. Some recent sobering facts from the CDC:

      Between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. For young men it is the second leading cause of death, and there is a trend of increasing rates of suicide among younger men, which is not seen with young women.

      Of the reported suicides in the 10 to 24 age group, 81% of the deaths were males and 19% were females. Girls, however, are more likely to report attempting suicide than boys.

      Much can be done by simply acknowledging that a problem exists. It may or may not have helped in this case, but greater awareness means being better able to detect problems. It also means that those suffering silently may feel less stigma about their situation and seek the help they need.

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  • Student

    Dear “authoritarianism”: One cannot blame the cooperative system for this incident – for someone who had been only living there for a mere few months. Pulling up a story about a student who OD’d a few years ago isn’t AT ALL relevant to this situation, (isn’t even the same case!) nor does it make your argument valid. There were clearly several other things, years and years of it, that factored into this.
    And even the fact that you pulled up other stories of student suicides from different communities at Cal, proves that THIS DOES HAPPEN in ALL kinds of communities.
    It is sad, that a majority of people tend to overlook or undermine the reasons and causes of suicide – it leads to that through years of going through something – yes folks, it’s not only just because of “finals season” or whatever reason that makes us FEEL COMFORTABLE with labeling. It is sad, that a majority of people have the reaction to “pitty” the individual and think that they were hopeless and a lost cause. This can be prevented and they were NOT a lost cause.

  • parent

    OMG, he die so young. Rest in Peace!

  • Nick

    We are glad you were with us, Rest in Peace our dear Cal Bear.

  • authoritarianism
    • ClassOf03

      The culture at Cloyne and the culture at Stebbins are very different. You should get your facts straight before you go around suggesting this is a co-op related issue. Some of the co-ops have a lot of regular drug users and have a reputation for housing a lot of reckless party animals. Others are very quiet and have a reputation for being quite studious and responsible. A lot are somewhere in-between. I would also like to point out that there is no correlation between the three unfortunate deaths you listed, the overdose at Cloyne nearly three years ago, or Mr Johnson’s death. Finally, how dare you use the death of a student to spread your political agenda? The discussion in this article should be confined to Mr Johnson, and it would be kind if all comments were considerate and respectful, as it is highly likely that people who cared very much about him will read all of them.

      -rant over

      • Calipenguin

        But you do have to admit there’s a double standard. If someone had OD’d at a fraternity the entire Greek system would be raked over the coals. But if someone dies at a co-op then it’s just one person, no reflection on the co-op, and definitely no reflection on the other co-ops, right?

        • Learn some respect

          WHERE did it say Johnson OD’d? NOWHERE. The OD at Cloyne has NOTHING to do with Johnson’s death.

          This page should be an online memorial to Johnson. Have some respect for the deceased and people who care about him.

          Take your politics ELSEWHERE.

          • Stan De San Diego

            I see you weren’t able to address this issue. Personally I don’t have an opinion of co-ops or the Greek fraternities either way, but you seem a bit hypersensitive.

        • qwekk12

          I think the difference is that many of the scandals that do seem to put whole organizations at risk are the Drug Over Doses, or Alcohol abuse problems, or Hazing.

          When anyone is harmed be it in a co-op or greek house because of these circumstances it is a large public affair where everyone gets “raked over the coals” For example the BSC received a lot of criticism, some of it very fair, about the OD incident. Every house was put on edge and had discussions about drugs in their house.

          This was not one of those incidents. Cody did not OD

          Lets not make this a co-op vs greek issue.
          I do not think there is a double standard

          • anon

            I respectfully disagree. The drug use in co-ops is widespread and supported through house-wide activities (although I am not saying that it is sponsored by the houses). It is interesting to me that the Greek houses are regulated so heavily when illicit drug use is far heavier in the co-ops. I am not saying that the Greek system is without significant problems of its own, but from being familiar with both systems I would like to shed my personal perspective on the system.

          • guest

            yo, drug use is widespread in the whole uc campus. just sayin’.

            the greek system is a part of the lead center and student affairs of uc berkeley. co-ops are a form of low-income housing. so, very different circumstances, where fraternities and sororities are recognized and sponsored by the university and get university funding similar to a student group. what someone does within their own home is a completely different story. JUST SAYIN’.

          • qwekk12

            What are you disagreeing with? I never said anything about drug use being higher or lower in any community.

            You can have that anecdotal opinion, I have never lived in the greek system so I can not give any insight.

            I knew Cody, and he was a great guy who did not do drugs but had a difficult life. Please do not make this a co-op vs greek issue.

            I would be glad to talk about a broader discussion of identifying depression and respect for others.

        • Mark

          Calipenguin, are you part of a frat? How would you feel if one of your bros died and was slandered on an online forum by someone from a co-op who said he probably OD’d?

    • FormerStebbinite

      Shut up. This is absolutely disrespectful, and based on an assumption.

    • anon

      lel xD comedy gold