|Grand Theft Auto series protagonists by Universe|
CJ is the second-in-command of the Los Santos-based street gang, the Grove Street Families, which is led by his older brother, Sean "Sweet" Johnson, and includes his childhood friends Lance "Ryder" Wilson and Melvin "Big Smoke" Harris. Having left his friends and family behind and moved to Liberty City for five years after the death of his younger brother Brian, CJ eventually returns home after learning about the murder of his mother. From there, he works to earn back the trust of his friends and family, restore Grove Street back to power, and learn the mysterious circumstances of his mother's death, only to later be betrayed by his friends and forced to flee Los Santos once again. While exiled, however, he makes numerous new friends and allies, becomes successful and wealthy through businesses and assets in both San Fierro and Las Venturas, and eventually returns to Los Santos to reunite with his family, exact revenge on those who wronged him, and reclaim the city for Grove Street. Carl is the son of Beverly Johnson, the younger brother of Sweet, and the older brother of Kendl and Brian.
Carl "CJ" Johnson was born in Los Santos to Beverly Johnson. He has a father, but as seen in the intro movie, he said he didn't know him. Beverly had four children: Sean, Carl, Kendl, and Brian. Sweet states that Carl was born in the Johnson House, the family's childhood and current home. Old Reece, a family friend and Ganton's local Barber, recalls memories of Carl's father, although Carl tells Joey Leone that he never knew his father, and that Sweet was the "man" of the house but made his life miserable. Carl says to Woozie in Amphibious Assault that, when he was swimming as a child, he once got a condom stuck on his face, and that "horror like that stays with you for life". This also explains his fear for swimming.
The Johnson siblings, along with Melvin "Big Smoke" Harris and Lance "Ryder" Wilson, grew up on the same cul-de-sac and were childhood friends. CJ recalls Ryder dealing drugs since he was ten. Sweet became the leader of the Grove Street Families and introduced him, CJ, and possibly Brian into the gang life.
Around 1985, the Grove Street Families were at the height of their power when they first became pressured by Frank Tenpenny, a corrupt police officer of C.R.A.S.H. It's likely that Officer Eddie Pulaski was also serving with Tenpenny at this time. The Grove Street Families went into a decline at some point between 1987 and 1992. Carl's younger brother Brian died in 1987. The cause of his death was never revealed, though it is implied Carl was present but did not help him, as Sweet laments that Carl "let Brian die". He was no longer considered a member of Grove Street, and would later have to earn his way back into the gang. Big Smoke also implies that Carl was physically larger during that time, stating that the "East Coast got [him] all thinned out".
Adult life In Liberty City
Following Brian's death, Carl left Los Santos and moved to Liberty City. When he arrived, he began working with Joey Leone, the son of Leone Family Don Salvatore Leone, in the car theft business, as well as other small-time crimes.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
In 1992, Beverly Johnson is killed in a drive-by shooting by the Ballas. Sweet phones Carl and informs him, and Carl agrees to return for the funeral.
Carl returns and takes a taxi to his mother's house, but is arrested and confronted by C.R.A.S.H. members Frank Tenpenny, Eddie Pulaski and Jimmy Hernandez, who explain that Carl will do work for them, or they will frame him for killing their fellow officer Ralph Pendelbury (who was really murdered by C.R.A.S.H. themselves). After meeting with Big Smoke at the Johnson house, Carl finally meets with his siblings and friends. Carl quickly learns that the Grove Street Families lost much of their power over the last five years - a result of the growing crack cocaine trend and, though Sweet doesn't admit it, Sweet not having as much personal strength as a leader without CJ home. CJ and Sweet work furiously to successfully bring the gang back to power, with CJ regaining his brother's respect in the process. This included reuniting with the Seville and Temple families, as well as the Aztecas leader Cesar Vialpando (who, although a rival of Sweet's at the time, began a loving relationship with Kendl), and wiping out the Ballas, the sworn enemy of the Grove Street Families. Carl also helped OG Loc, a laughable "poser" who aspired to be a rapper (consequently ruining rap superstar Madd Dogg's career in the process).
The gang is at the second height of its power, and is planning on taking out the rest of the Ballas in an ambush, until Cesar reveals to Carl that Ryder and Big Smoke have betrayed the gang to C.R.A.S.H and the Ballas. Carl rushes to the gunfight, suspecting that Sweet and the gang are walking into a trap, and manages to hold off the Ballas to rescue a heavily-wounded Sweet, until both of them are arrested by C.R.A.S.H. Grove Street Families and the Varrios Los Aztecas practically disappear, and Big Smoke becomes head of a drug ring and takes over Los Santos. OG Loc also becomes a rich and famous rapper, with Big Smoke acting as his manager as a means to launder his money.
C.R.A.S.H. abandons Carl in rural Whetstone to eliminate a witness against them. It is slowly revealed that they are being tried in court over their corruption, in a case that is quickly building media attention. Cesar connects CJ to his (mentally unstable) cousin, Catalina, and the two form a relationship built on the robberies they commit together. Tenpenny introduces CJ to The Truth, an aging hippie who is supplying Tenpenny with tons of weed, and tells CJ to frame a D.A who is an enemy of Tenpenny's. Tenpenny demands that CJ pay for the shipment, which forces him to return to work with Catalina, who now has an obsessive crush on him. Carl also meets the San Fierro Triads leader Wu Zi Mu during a street race. Catalina finds him at the race and expresses her feeling of neglect and anger, feeling that he was only interested in her as a partner in crime, also proclaiming that she has a new boyfriend, Claude. CJ defeats Claude and Catalina in a street race, gaining the deed to Claude's run-down San Fierro garage. CJ leaves for San Fierro with The Truth and Tenpenny's marijuana (despite Tenpenny betraying The Truth). They meet Cesar and Kendl at the garage in Doherty, San Fierro. CJ is angry about the bad state of the garage and believes that it is completely useless. Kendl explains to CJ that the property is a great opportunity, and through The Truth, he hires Dwaine, Jethro and Zero to work in the garage.
Carl meets with Woozie in San Fierro and the two quickly become strong allies, collaborating to take down each of their enemies - Carl targeting the Loco Syndicate (Big Smoke's suppliers) and Woozie's rivals, the Da Nang Boys. Carl infiltrates and eventually kills all the chief members - Jizzy B, T-Bone Mendez, and even Ryder from the Grove Street Families. The garage (now a car theft ring), as well as renting out property, has earned Carl a modest sum of money. He receives a surprise phone call from Mike Toreno, a former member of the Loco Syndicate (who was apparently killed), who reveals himself to be a government agent and is recruiting Carl's help in exchange for releasing Sweet from a life sentence. Although it is a well-kept secret from all of his friends, The Truth finds Carl at Toreno's place of operation, and warns Carl that Toreno can't be trusted. He continues to recruit Carl's help in stealing a Jetpack from Area 69, which is needed for The Truth's goal of stealing mysterious, enlightening green goo.
Woozie invites CJ to the Triad's glamorous Four Dragons Casino in Las Venturas. Upon arrival, Carl is given shares in the casino by Woozie "in exchange for some help setting it up". They are faced with aggressive competition from the Mafia-run Caligula's Palace and, as revenge, spend time planning an extremely elaborate heist of Caligula's. This dually involves Carl infiltrating Caligula's inner circle of management (by chance of The Truth's association with music industry employees Kent Paul and Maccer) to work with their manager, Ken Rosenberg, and even Don Salvatore Leone, later helping the trio fake their deaths to escape Salvatore's rage. During this time period, C.R.A.S.H. extracts the last of Carl's labor before they try to kill Carl (and kill Hernandez for snitching on them), with Carl killing Pulaski and escaping alive. Carl, by chance, sees Madd Dogg attempting suicide and saves his life, partially out of guilt for ruining his career.
Carl's ongoing vendetta towards Tenpenny and Big Smoke, finalized by Madd Dogg having to sell his mansion to drug lord Big Poppa, prompts Carl to return to Los Santos, taking back the rapper's mansion by force. While recording Madd Dogg's new album, Toreno gives Carl the last of his work before Sweet is released from prison. Sweet is disgusted at Carl for his new millionaire's lifestyle, and for having forgotten all about helping the Grove Street Families. Sweet immediately takes Carl back to Grove Street to begin their task of reclaiming all of their turf. As the gang slowly begins their third return to power, Carl manages to get Madd Dogg's rhyme book back from OG Loc, reviving Madd Dogg's career, as hitting Big Smoke close to home. In the case against Tenpenny, it's shown on the news that since there is no evidence implicating him in his criminal activities, he would walk free; seconds after, citywide riots commence in outrage at Tenpenny's acquittal. During the confusion, Grove Street Families retakes almost half of the city's turf, and, after an assault on his Crack Palace, Carl kills Big Smoke. After Carl and Sweet chase him across the city through the riots, Tenpenny also dies after his firetruck falls from a bridge above Grove Street. At a celebration in the Johnson house, Madd Dogg, accompanied by Ken, Kent, and Maccer, announces "our first gold record" to Carl. At the same time, Sweet insists on making Grove Street a priority, while Kendl suggests going back to Las Venturas with Woozie, but Carl's only reply was that he was "fittin' to hit the block, see what's happening".
After GTA San Andreas
At the very end of the game, Carl is a young and wealthy man. His assets and business interests include the Grove Street Families gang and Madd Dogg's contract in Los Santos, a car garage and several other properties in San Fierro, and shares in the Four Dragons Casino in Las Venturas, as well as the government's $60 million jetpack.
It is suggested that Carl, Madd Dogg, Kent Paul and Maccer are to go on a world wide tour, as mentioned by Madd Dogg during the game's final cutscene. Maccer and Kent Paul are to ride along, giving another hint that Carl helped the two rebuild their band.
An Easter egg in GTA IV suggests that Carl, along with the other 3D Universe protagonists, are dead. However, this is simply to commemorate the game being the beginning of a new era and it is not considered canon. Rockstar Games have stated this is "a little joke to our fans".
A billboard outside the Middle Park East Safehouse depicts a man strongly resembling Carl in a suit and tie drinking wine with the word "Fruntalot" beside it, which is presumably the product that is being advertised. Either way, neither this nor the aforementioned Easter egg is considered canon for the 3D Universe.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
- As the protagonist, he appears in all missions.
Crimes Committed by Carl Johnson
- The theft of a vehicle in Liberty City.
- A possible murder of a cashier of the Pizza Stack restaurant.
- The vandalism from Grove Street in Idlewood and East Los Santos.
- The murder of a crack dealer on the edge of Ganton and the shootout of a crack den in Idlewood.
- The drive-by shooting against the Ballas.
- The drive-by shootings against the Ballas in East Los Santos.
- The murder of a Vagos member along with other Vagos members.
- The shootout against the Seville Families in Playa del Seville.
- The illegal racing competition across part of Los Santos with lowriders.
- The burglary of Colonel Furberger’s home for guns.
- The theft of a van and its stereo.
- The infiltration of rapper Madd Dogg and theft of Madd Dogg’s rhyme book along with the murders of Madd Dogg’s bodyguards.
- The murder of Alan Crawford along with his girlfriend.
- The shootout against the Ballas in Ganton.
- The destruction of a house in East Los Santos.
- The murders of a dealer and warehouse workers.
- The shootout against the Ballas in Glenn Park and the murder of a Ballas member.
- The shootout against the Ballas at the Vinewood Cemetery and the murder of a Ballas member.
- The murder of a Vagos member.
- The drive-by shooting against Vagos members while chasing a train.
- The shootout against Russians in Downtown and the chase across parts of Los Santos.
- The shootout against the LSPD and SWAT in a motel in Jefferson and a police chase throughout East Los Santos.
- The shootout against the Ballas under the Muholland Intersection.
- The murder of a informant and multiple FBI agents.
- Robberies of a liquor store, a bank, a betting shop, and a gas station in the countryside.
- Participating in illegal race competitions in the countryside.
- The destruction of a police helicopter along with the pilot.
- The framing of a District Attorney in San Fierro.
- The shootout against a swarm of little controlled planes with a minigun.
- The murders of multiple delivery employees and the destructions of delivery vans via a remote controlled model plane.
- The destruction of a construction site firm and the death of the foreman.
- The murders of a pimp, a couple of punters, a prostitute, a preacher, and his protection.
- The chase and murders of multiple bikers throughout San Fierro.
- The shootout and drive-by shooting chase against the Da Nang Boys.
- The drive-by shooting and shootout against the Da Nang Boys at the airport in San Fierro.
- The shootouts against the Da Nang Boys and assistance of delivering drugs.
- The drive-by shootings against the Da Nang Boys.
- The infiltration of a Da Nang Boys freighter and the murders of multiple Da Nang Boys members.
- The attack of an Da Nang Boys freighter and the shootout and murders of many Da Nang Boys members and The Snakehead.
- The assassination of a reporter and a journalist on the Santa Maria Pier.
- The murders of Jizzy B and his bodyguards.
- The attack and shootout against the Ballas and Loco Syndicate and the murders of members T-Bone Mendez and Ryder.
- The destruction of a helicopter along with the murders of multiple bodyguards.
- The destruction of a crack factory and the murders of multiple crack factory guards.
- The theft of a tanker and a gas tank trailer
- The theft of a vehicle from a woman.
- The theft of two cars from Otto’s Car Showroom
- The theft of a vehicle from the docks in Easter Basin.
- The theft of a vehicle from a woman.
- The destruction of multiple agent helicopters.
- The destruction of a cargo plane over the country in Las Venturas.
- The infiltration/attack of Area 69, the theft of a military Jetpack, and the murders of many Area 69 military soldiers and employees.
- The theft of a item and the murders of a few soldiers.
- The kidnapping and cause of Johnny Sindacco’s shock-induced coma.
- The infiltration of a quarry, the theft of sticks of dynamite, and the murders of quarry workers.
- The causes of fire at the City Planning Building, the theft of plans, and the murders of the building security guards and multiple police officers.
- The murder of a citizen named Benny.
- The infiltration of the Sherman Dam and the murders of multiple security guards and a couple of engineers.
- The theft of four police bikes.
- The theft of a sky crane helicopter, a security van, the infiltration of the military compound and murders of multiple soldiers.
- The destruction of a plastics factory and the shootout against the Sindacco Family guards.
- The murders of snake farmers.
- The ramming of a couple ambulances the drive-by shootings against the Forelli family guards, and the murders of Forelli guards.
- The shootout against the Sindacco family at the meat factory in Las Venturas
- The shootout against agents, the theft of a dossier, and the murders of multiple agents.
- The chase across part of the country and the murder of Officer Eddie Pulaski.
- The theft of a plane and the murders of the Forelli family members.
- The shootout against the Forelli family and the murders of the Forelli’s in Liberty City.
- The robbery of Caligula’s Casino and the murders of multiple guards.
- The shootout against the Vagos in Madd Dogg’s mansion and the chase and murder of Big Poppa.
- The theft of a military jet and the destruction of other military jets and spy ships.
- The gang war shootout against the Ballas in Ganton.
- The gang war shootout against the Ballas in Glen Park.
- The chase against OG Loc across part of Los Santos.
- The gang war shootouts against the Ballas in the Idlewood neighborhoods.
- The gang war shootouts against the Vagos near El Corona.
- The theft of a SWAT Tank, the attack of a crack palace in East Los Santos, the shootout against many gangs, the murder of Big Smoke, the chase and indirect murder of Frank Tenpenny.
Murders Committed by Carl Johnson
|Target||Mission||Reasoning & Method|
|Alan Crawford||Management Issues||OG Loc wanted to sabotage Madd Dogg's career and at the same time because Crawford refused to be affiliated as OG Loc's manager and blackballed him in the music business. Killed after CJ kidnapped Crawford and his girlfriend after an awarding ceremony and drove the car off a pier, causing them to drown.|
|Andre||Gray Imports||Frank Tenpenny gave Carl orders to investigate a warehouse on the docks; Killed while attempting to flee.|
|Little Weasel||Doberman||Little Weasel betrayed the Grove Street Families by joining the Ballas; Killed by CJ after Glen Park was taken by the Grove Street Families.|
|Kane||Los Sepulcros||Kane was killed on Sweet's orders to weaken the Ballas' strength; Killed during a gunfight on Little Weasel's funeral.|
|The Informant||Badlands||Killed in orders of Tenpenny, because he had proof of C.R.A.S.H.'s actions.|
|Construction Foreman||Deconstruction||Buried alive with cement while trapped in a Porta Potty for harassing Carl's sister.|
|The Reporter||Snail Trail||Killed in orders of C.R.A.S.H., because he was reportedly investigating Eddie Pulaski's corruption.|
|The Journalist||Snail Trail||Killed in orders of C.R.A.S.H. alongside the Reporter.|
|Jizzy B.||Ice Cold Killa||Jizzy B. was killed to allow the disbandment of the Loco Syndicate to commence and to obtain the location of a drug deal; Killed in car chase.|
|T-Bone Mendez||Pier 69||Mendez was killed by Carl with the help of Cesar Vialpando to officially disband the Loco Syndicate; Killed during a gunfight on the pier.|
|Lance Wilson||Pier 69||Ryder was killed for betraying the Grove Street Families and joining the Ballas; Killed during a boat chase.|
|The Snakehead||The Da Nang Thang||The Snakehead was killed by Carl on orders from Wu Zi Mu to weaken the Da Nang Boys. Killed on a freighter in the San Fierro bay.|
|Benny||Key To Her Heart||Benny was killed in order to get access to Millie Perkins' home so CJ can pretend to be Millie's gimp.|
|The Dossier Carrier||Misappropriation||Killed in orders of Tenpenny to receive a dossier that contained compromising information regarding C.R.A.S.H.|
|Eddie Pulaski||High Noon||Pulaski was killed by Carl for insulting his family and attempting to kill him; Killed during car chase.|
|Marco Forelli||Saint Mark's Bistro||Forelli was killed on orders from Salvatore Leone; Killed in gunfight.|
|Big Poppa||A Home In The Hills||Poppa was killed to reclaim Madd Dogg's mansion; Killed in car chase.|
|Melvin Harris||End of the Line||Big Smoke was killed by Carl for betraying the Grove Street Families and to finally earn Sweet's respect; Killed in gunfight.|
|Freddy||OG Loc||Freddy embarrassed OG Loc by revealing that they shared a consensual homosexual relationship while in prison. Shot to death during a motorcycle chase by either CJ or Loc.|
|Derek||Tanker Commander||Can be killed in order to steal a tanker.|
|Millie Perkins||Key to Her Heart||Can be killed to gain quicker access to her key-card to rob Caligula's Palace.|
CJ is markedly different from the previous playable characters in the Grand Theft Auto series. While Claude and Tommy Vercetti are both depicted as completely heartless and feeling no regret for all of the people that they kill, CJ is depicted as having a considerably less violent personality, occasionally giving his targets a chance to redeem themselves. An example is his failed attempt at convincing Eddie Pulaski to see that he was no more than Tenpenny's pawn in the mission High Noon. Furthermore, CJ displays genuine remorse for having to kill Ryder and Big Smoke, who he considered close friends. However, CJ has no problem with killing members of other gangs, and willfully slaughters any that get in his way of reclaiming Grove Street Family turf or try to sabotage his businesses, though in return, the gangsters are trying to kill CJ also.
CJ's naïve personality, face-value interpretations of other characters' responses occasionally leads them to question CJ's intelligence (The Truth, Catalina). Despite his mostly calm nature, CJ has shown a very violent and aggressive side when his family is threatened, as with the mission Deconstruction, where he vowed to teach a lesson to the construction workers who insulted his sister, Kendl, and proceeded to kill them all, including burying the Foreman alive in a portable toilet. CJ, like his brother Sweet, holds a deep seated loyalty towards Grove Street and the hood, as seen in his reaction to the resentful attitude of his friends and siblings early on. Though, towards the end of the game, while Sweet was in prison, and CJ was making progress in San Fierro and Las Venturas, the unattended Grove Street became Ballas turf and was filled with crack dealers. CJ tries to get his brother to abandon the hood for their assets elsewhere, but he is quickly convinced into re-taking the turf and rebuilding the Grove Street Family. Despite his young age, Carl often handles situations in a professional manner. This is shown during the mission The Meat Business when Carl keeps encouraging Ken Rosenberg to calm down and remember that "you're the boss".
At the beginning of the game, Carl, much like Sweet, had a very gang-based and ghetto mentality, stubbornly holding to his gangster views and beliefs, such as his unwillingness to "rat" towards the cops, holding onto his "street code" and naïvely believing that other gangsters also held onto them, and using outdated methods to create tools, such as a silencer. Shortly after being exiled from Los Santos, Carl continued to hold onto these beliefs until Cesar Vialpando revealed that Smoke had been a drug dealer for a long time and was transporting drugs from San Fierro, and Kendl noted that Smoke's house was purchased with drug money.
However, shortly after his arrival in San Fierro, Carl gradually loses his gang-based mentality and adopts more strategic, intelligent, and cunning viewpoints and mentality. This is demonstrated by planting drugs on a D.A.'s car and reporting to the SFPD, leading The Da Nang Boys away from Chinatown to allow a Triad leader to escape assassination, using stinger traps to steal a car without damaging it, scaring a high-ranking mobster into revealing his identity, planning a major Casino heist in Venturas, saving Madd Dogg's life by using a truck full of crates, leading an all-out assault with the Triads to reclaim Madd Dogg's mansion from the Vagos, and using a SWAT Tank to break into a heavily-protected building. Carl also becomes the successful manager of Madd Dogg, and through his various connections, helps revitalize Madd Dogg's career, further showing Carl's growing mindset and business-like methods.
In the Beta Version and in The Introduction, CJ is seen wearing a black hoodie with blue jeans. CJ's default appearance in the final version of the game is a white tank top, with blue jeans and black tennis shoes. He is an African-American with a cesar hairstyle, black hair, brown eyes, a bit of facial hair and a thin body. CJ has been compared to and confused for both his father and his brother Brian, suggesting that CJ bears a great resemblance to both of them. CJ is also stated to have been fatter or more muscular before he left for Liberty City, with his friends stating the east coast "thinned him out". Carl is noticeably short, as the player can see when Carl is standing next to other characters such as Sweet, Big Smoke, Grove Street members, and even Ryder, who has been belittled for his height numerous times. Some mission cutscenes show Carl slightly limping his left foot. This is also notable if the player enters the slow motion cheat twice and watches the sprint animation carefully.
CJ can have a large variety of appearances depending on the player. For example, he can wear cheap clothes from Binco or luxury clothes from Zip. He can be muscular, thin or fat with the use of gyms and restaurants. He can also have different tattoos and hairstyles. Carl was the most customizable protagonist until the release of Grand Theft Auto Online.
Another interesting dynamic thing about Carl's appearance is that his quotes depend on his clothing and physical appearance. For example, he will use more slang when dressed in lower-end clothing, speak in a more refined tone when wearing high-end clothes, or even make food-related comments when he is fatter.
- On rare occasions, motor officers may call out Carl by his last name or nickname when he is arrested. Members of most street gangs also recognise him (this includes all Los Santos based gangs, the San Fierro Rifa and the Da Nang Boys).
- Carl's Shamal call sign in Saint Mark's Bistro was CJ101.
- Some of Carl's idle animations consist of him singing "Nuthin' But A G Thang Babe", "Express yourself, cuz I'm from Grove Street", "Never gonna get it, never gonna get it, biatch", "you drop the bomb on me", "move your body, dum-dah-dum, move your body", "take your time and let me LOVE you girl" "Rollercoaster! OH-OO-HOO-HOO!", or just humming.
- It is possible that CJ is a Christian. In the mission, First Date, Carl tells Catalina that he is a "God fearing peace-loving man of the people". Like Franklin Clinton, Carl can purchase several religious tattoos (most notably a Virgin Mary tattoo and a cross) and a Cross Chain sold at Didier Sachs, further supporting this theory.
- However, Carl may have told that to Catalina sarcastically, especially given the actions that CJ commits throughout the storyline. In addition, in the opening cutscene, Big Smoke references "the book" (presumably the Bible), to which Carl replies, "what fucking book?", implying he's unfamiliar with religion.
- When Rockstar Games revealed that Carl was black, there was considerable uproar in the media regarding the possibility of racism. It was believed Rockstar had taken a great risk by making a black protagonist. Despite this, when the game was released, Carl's character was very well received and Rockstar were praised developing him to have emotions and morals that weren't present with previous protagonists. Many players even said that they had felt it wrong and out of character for Carl to randomly kill innocent people in-game. This trait was carried over to Niko Bellic.
- If CJ becomes fat enough, his head will always face slightly to the side when stood still.
- In the Grand Theft Auto V mission Derailed, there is a challenge for the mission, which is "Better than CJ".