A guiding voice in L.A. traffic

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Paul Johnson, a longtime traffic reporter for KNBC-4 TV News in Burbank, died Tuesday night of a brain tumor, family members said. He was 75.

Johnson, who reported on traffic conditions and the weather since August 1988, was popular among thousands of viewers, not just because of the topic but because he was "a genuine man" whose personality came across "loud and clear" on the television, said his wife Nancy Johnson, 54, who owns a hair salon, Shear Attitude, in Newport Beach.

The salon, in fact, was something that Johnson, a Minnesota native, bought for her four years ago, when she turned 50, she said, adding that the two had fallen in love immediately during a Special Olympics fundraiser in the summer of 2002 at the Los Coyotes Country Club in Buena Park.

An employee at the club at the time, it was Nancy's job to shuttle golfers to and from the parking lot to the registration office. When she spotted Johnson, to whom she'd long grown accustomed after seeing him on television, she could barely contain her enthusiasm.

"Oh, I recognized him right away," she said in a telephone interview from the couple's home in Orange Park Acres. "And I came screaming up in the golf cart, saying, 'Hi, Mr. Johnson. We know how the weather is, but how was your commute this morning?'"

"He said, 'Please … call me 'Paul,'" she recounted.

From the get-go, the entire encounter was flirtatious, she said.

The pair married a few months later.

Johnson was born on Nov. 22, 1934, in Litchfield, Minn., population about 6,600, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. But it was even much smaller in size when Johnson was growing up. He came to Southern California in 1962 after working at a radio station in Chicago, according to his wife.

"He said he left because he didn't like the cold weather in Chicago," Johnson said.

Johnson was adopted by wealthy parents during the Great Depression and grew up privileged. His parents owned car dealerships.

By age 19, Johnson angered his adopted father to no end after he got into a car accident.

"His father booted him out of the house and gave him $500 to live on," she said.

From there, Johnson made a beeline for St. Paul, and ended up living in the YMCA while working odd jobs. Finally, realizing that he was not going anywhere, he enrolled in a 10-week broadcast program that ultimately landed his first job as a DJ.

From there, he netted jobs in different cities across the Midwest before ultimately winding up in Los Angeles.

Johnson was also fond of acting and loved to sing. He appeared in several movies over the years, including "Paint Your Wagon," starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin. Johnson sang in the film's chorus.

He also co-starred in a "Scrubs" episode on NBC.

But perhaps his greatest legacy will be having purchased the salon, his wife said. .

"Now that he's gone, I'm going to have something to fall back on," she said.

Memorial services are pending.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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