Less obvious were the nagging model rivalries. As her fame grew, Ms. Johnson fretted that younger Black models, Iman in particular, would eclipse her, a prospect that fueled her already mounting anxiety.
Nor did it help that she and her peers often resorted to cocaine to curb their food cravings. Drugs were an occupational hazard, Ms. Johnson said. “As a model, you had to be a hanger. You could be 90 pounds and chiseled to the bone, and they worshiped you for it. You could not get too thin.”
Inevitably, perhaps, she developed the body dysmorphia that plagues her to this day. “I’ve been in therapy for it my whole life,” she said. “Right now I think I’m fat.”
In her stage monologue, as in her memoir, she recalls that she came to rue her two marriages, especially her 1977 union with Mr. Sims, whose infidelities and threatened violence sent her into a tailspin of depression — and more drugs. She sought help from her sister Sheilah, a therapist and school guidance counselor, who, Ms. Johnson related in the interview, asked her bluntly: “Will you die if you stay in this relationship? Will you actually physically die?”
“And I thought, ‘Yes, I will die,’” an epiphany that spurred her to divorce Mr. Sims in 1979. Anansa, a toddler at the time, was sent to live with her father, returning to her mother only in her teens.
Ms. Johnson was linked over the years with the tennis star Arthur Ashe, the boxer Mike Tyson and the actor Chris Noth. About a dozen years ago, she settled in Palm Springs, Calif., with Brian Maillian, a financier, who accompanied her to New York last week. They were marred in October.