Grand Theft Auto series
- "Man, what the hood done for me? Always dragging me down. Ever since I got out the hood shit been cracking! That's everybody's dream to get out of the hood..."
- ―Carl Johnson
Carl "CJ" Johnson was born in 1968 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 Old Reece, 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 "you can't forget horror like that". 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".
Carl also used to be a rapper, as he claimed in a conversation with OG Loc.
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 Tenpenny). 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 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.
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. A newspaper in GTA IV also mentions a man named Carl Johnson.
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".
- GTA San Andreas
As the protagonist, he appears in all missions.
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.|
|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.|
|Edward 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. 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, inexperience, and face-value interpretations of other characters' responses occasionally leads them to question CJ's intelligence (The Truth, Catalina). 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. 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".
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; players can alter his clothes, his hairstyle, his tattoos and even his physical appearance, such as making him fat or muscular.
- On rare occasions, motor officers may call out Carl by his last name when he is arrested.
- 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" or just humming.