Channel 5 reporter dies after sudden illness


by By IAN McCANN / The Dallas Morning News

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:48 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 1:17 PM

Brett Johnson

FORT WORTH - Brett Johnson, a KXAS-TV (Channel 5) news reporter for 13 years, died Sunday at age 48 after a sudden illness.

The Fort Worth native told stories like few other reporters, said longtime friend Brett Shipp, a reporter for WFAA-TV (Channel 8). Regardless of the subject, they were always a bit irreverent.

"He didn't do cookie-cutter stories," Shipp said. "People are afraid to tell stories in the way Brett did. He was the best at what he did."

Johnson found stories off the beaten path, especially about all things Texas.

Among his loves was music, which came through in his stories about the not-so- famous as well as the famous, including ZZ Top and Willie Nelson.

"Brett was a neat kid, and grew up into being a neat man," said his brother-in-law, Roy Robertson of Fort Worth. "He was a heck of a guitar player. ... He learned to play guitar by ear."

Johnson also loved good food, his native state and especially his home city, said Susan Tully, vice president of content for KXAS.

"People in Fort Worth knew him, because he grew up with them," Tully said. "Brett is Fort Worth.

"He is a very good, versatile reporter," Tully said. "He was great at the top of the newscast or right at the end."

Johnson was about to go on vacation to Mexico when he was hospitalized Wednesday because of stomach pain. He was diagnosed with pancreatitis at Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth. Numerous other complications quickly arose, and he was put on life support, Robertson said.

Services were still being planned. After his memorial service, a celebration of his life is expected to take place at Billy Bob's in Fort Worth, where he knew the management and staff well from the numerous stories he did there.

Johnson started as a freelancer for the NBC station in 1996 before he was hired full time. He had previously worked for KDFW (Channel 4) and at TV stations in other cities including Waco and Oklahoma City.

Johnson graduated from Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth and from Stephen F. Austin State University, where he and Shipp met.

"We've just been running buddies ever since," Shipp said. "We followed a parallel career. It's just been wonderful to have him there. He and I have gone everywhere together."

Survivors include his mother, Billye Johnson of Arlington, and a sister, Renee Robertson of Fort Worth.