Few Grand Theft Auto characters are as iconic as Carl “CJ” Johnson. GTA fans fell in love with CJ during Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where he served as the game’s protagonist. For many players, they spent a large portion of their life, especially their teenage years, with CJ. As such he holds a special place in their hearts. But there are plenty of gamers, even Grand Theft Auto fans, who might not know anything about CJ. Here, we’ll introduce you to CJ and tell you his life story.
CJ’s Early Years
Carl “CJ” Johnson was born on August 11, 1968, to Beverly Johnson and an unknown father. His family hails from Los Santos where he grew up on Grove Street. CJ has three siblings: Sean, his older brother who is also known as “Sweet,” Kendl, a younger sister, and Brian, a younger brother. In his cul-de-sac on Grove Street, he met Melvin “Big Smoke” Harris and Lance “Ryder” Wilson, and they quickly became childhood friends.
Sean would eventually lead the Grove Street Families, a street gang that also brought in CJ, Big Smoke, and Ryder, among others. CJ’s youngest brother, Brian, would often hang around the gang, which ultimately led to his death. The game heavily implies that a rival gang is responsible but offers no confirmation. Prior to Brian’s death, CJ Left Los Santos for Liberty City, where he worked for the Leone Crime Family. However, CJ returns home following yet another gang-related death.
Return to Los Santos
In 1992, CJ returns home following the drive-by shooting death of his mother, which is where San Andreas begins. He wishes to attend her funeral and support his family, but corrupt C.R.A.S.H. cops Frank Tenpenny, Eddie Pulaski, and Jimmy Hernandez immediately force him back into the Los Santos crime life. CJ spends the remainder of his time in Los Santos restoring his brother’s weakened gang and trying to keep himself in the good graces of corrupt law enforcement officers.
Over time, CJ, not Sweet, becomes the central figure in restoring the Grove Street Families to their former glory and taming gang violence across Los Santos. His journey involves fighting back against the corrupt C.R.A.S.H. cops, crushing rival gangs like the Ballers and the Vagos, and battling his own inner demons.
Once CJ and the Grove Street Families finally re-establish their brand, he is betrayed by Big Smoke and Ryder. The pair sell CJ and his brother out to C.R.A.S.H. and the Ballas, leaving CJ to fight off both gangs to save his brother. From there, CJ’s story becomes one of revenge, rather than hope.
The Revenge Story
Throughout the events of San Andreas, CJ experiences what many people would go through in a lifetime. C.R.A.S.H. kidnaps and leaves him stranded to prevent his testimony in a corruption case. He then secures a garage and establishes a car theft ring. He also forms alliances with The Truth and Woozie, progressing towards the ultimate goal of ending Officer Tenpenny’s corrupt reign of terror.
In the game’s finale, CJ gets his revenge on Big Smoke and Tenpenny and establishes himself as the kingpin of Los Santos. He oversees the Grove Street Families and the career of rapper Madd Dogg, and owns a car garage and other properties throughout Los Santos. It’s unknown where Carl and his team are these days, as the game’s ending leaves his fate vague.
CJ endures as one of the most iconic GTA protagonists ever, a testament to the lasting impact San Andreas has on the gaming community. His story is a gritty and engrossing tale of loyalty, redemption, and the struggle to break free from a life of crime, but ultimately getting pulled back in. Perhaps GTA VI will clue us in on CJ’s whereabouts so we can finally get some closure with our favorite Grove Street Family member.