Journal Archive

Journal Archive

November 25, 2006

I was just sitting on my sofa a moment ago and noticed that “The Insider” was running a story on cosmetic surgery that included breast augmentation “mistakes” (one woman’s two breasts became one and one woman’s two breasts became four), along with Jenny’s latest surgery of the 30 she has had in her 30 years. That averages one for each year, though she began this transformation as an adult.

Her lips are so unnaturally swollen now that she can hardly enunciate properly. Her skin is so red, she looks like she has roasted in the sun. She is unusually thin and is not attractive to me at all. When she was on the “Jerry Springer Show” and I saw a photo of her before she began this journey of becoming someone else, not only was it apparent that she no longer resembles the woman she was born as, she also was more attractive then than she is now!

This story once again made me mourn my dear friend, Brandi Swann, who died on October 28th of a liposuction surgery gone bad. Words cannot express how deeply saddened and shocked I was to hear of her untimely and unnecessary death. A part of me feels angry at her for going for the okie doke until I remind myself of something else.

Ostensibly, these women are desperately seeking youth, beauty and body perfection but I believe the search is for something much deeper than personal appearance. At the heart of these painful and dangerous surgeries seems to be a search for self-love and acceptance. I believe it has little to do with physical beauty. If it was that alone, surely it would not take 30 surgeries to find perfection and it would not be so addictive.

It is the surgeons I fault for these botched surgeries and use of surgeries to drug these addictive women into wanting more. Do the surgeons care about the risks involved in these dangerous surgeries or does the money they receive weigh more?

What many of these women (and men) need is therapy, not cosmetic surgery. I challenge surgeons to order a full psychiatric study before taking some of these women and men under the knife. If surgeons are not acting out their desire for monetary gain, to play God and to dole out false definitions of beauty, are they willing to become for accountable and responsible?

What some of these surgeons are doing seems criminal to me. There ought to be a law that limits the number of cosmetic surgeries one person can have. What will it take to pass such a law? The death of a politician or judge’s loved one for it to really hit home? Or perhaps it will be the loss of a cosmetic surgeon’s daughter, wife or niece.

My friend Brandi’s death is the second I know of personally. I also know a man who, coincidentally, also died of a “tummy tuck” surgery. He was younger than Brandi and both were wonderful creative beings.

What wasteful losses!  

Below is a copy of the letter I posed in the online guest book of Brandi’s, following her recent death:


I am still stunned by your untimely death. I feel such a loss because what you meant to me cannot be filled by anyone else. We did not see each other often but as longtime friends well over 30 years, we always picked up right where we left off, with what was current in our lives and by catching up on the things that seemed to matter.

I am SOOOO glad you came to Los Angeles and stayed with me for the Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival this last March. It was MY treat to have you at all but the last program because you had to get back to your church. (You were committed that way.) You seemed to enjoy my Festival and all the talent that graced our stage this year.

I will never forget that last time together with you and mZuri sharing my grandson, Malik Isaiah's bedroom, and zooming down the streets of LA, Hollywood and Santa Monica in that flaming red convertible Sebring you rented. (You were bold and you had style, girl, and you could wear some high heels!:)

You loved my son, Tariq, and NEVER failed to ask how he was whenever we spoke. (Thanks for caring for him when I needed you to when he was a baby.)You were majestic with that 5'8" frame of yours and you spoke with such elegance - though you could get down and dirty when you felt like it because you always kept it real.

I loved that warm smile of yours and that mischievous laughter of yours that was infectious and that sounded only like you.

I also loved how you were daring, always ready to take on another challenge - so unafraid to REALLY live and you did just that!

I got word of your death while I was in Atlanta and it shadowed the rest of my trip there but I decided as I looked out of my kitchen window there to choose a tree in my backyard and name it after you. My "Brandi Tree" stands gracefully in my backyard, prominently planted. I will think of you often whenever I gaze out into my lush backyard that is so full of beautiful, green trees. Your tree is the one I especially chose just for you. I know your spirit will always look over me when I am in Atlanta.

I know you would have come down there with me because you loved to go and would have wanted to see what I had found but not to worry. You will be there always through "The Brandi Tree".

I loved your spirituality. You "knew" things that many others had no notion of and I understood exactly what you meant when you gave voice to what you knew.

I appreciate that you always looked up to me and were secure enough to say it. You were my sistuh girl.I suppose your work was done here so, like everyone else, I will now have to release you from this lifetime.Spread your wings and soar, chile! (I know you already are!:)

I know you turned everybody's heads when you stepped into the pearly gates dressed to the nines with that pair of $300 high heels of yours)and I know you are lighting the place up with your presence of laughter, style and grace.

You will ALWAYS be remembered by those whose lives you touched so intimately, especially mine. You will live daily everytime someone says your name, thinks thoughts of or looks at your photo (I put one up in my office where I can see it daily!)

Brandi, I know no one who even remotely reminds me of you. That is what will make your place in my heart so very, very special.

Love always,





Pamela Johnson, A.K.A. Brandi Swann
November 7, 1950 - October 28, 2006

Pamela Johnson, known to many as Brandi Swann, was found dead in her home on October 28. she had been recuperating from elective surgery, but cause of death is still unknown. Pamela was born in Argo, IL, to Willie Mae Rogers. After her mother's death, she was adopted by her uncle, Macon Johnson, and his wife Senobia. Pamela is survived by her brother Leroy Rodgers, aunt Ruth Johnson, nephew Timothy Johnson, niece Linda Russell, of Milwaukee, as well as many nieces and nephews and grand-nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her  parents and by siblings Mack Charles "MC" Rogers and Bernice Griffin.

At 17, Pamela left Milwaukee to pursue acting and modeling in Los Angeles, taking the stage name Brandi Swann. She lived briefly in Las Vegas before settling in San Francisco. She was an original and uncompromising thinker with a sassy fashion sense and a tremendous appetite for life. Her many-faceted talents shone as an actor, writer, athlete and mentor. She studied at the American Conservatory Theater’s Black Actors’ Workshop from 1976-1979 with fellow students Danny Glover and Denzel Washington, and appeared in the original production of "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf." She earned a BS in Organizational Behavior from the University of San Francisco in 1992 and participated in 1984 in the historic class action suit which opened the door to equal opportunity for women at the San Francisco Fire Department.

Brandi's deep spirituality fed a loving and compassionate spirit. She was the Area Reference Person for the Haight Ashbury Western Addition community of Re-Evaluation Counselors, pastor of the Institute of Religious Science, a mentor at the Instituto Familiar de la Raza, and a long-time member of the Children’s Home Society. She rowed with the Embarcadero Rowing Club and appeared frequently in the Bay Area's African American theater.

Her warm and generous heart will be missed by many. A memorial service and potluck will be held at 2 p.m., December 3, at the Institute of Religious Science, 3255 Balboa St, San Francisco, CA 94121. Donations can be made to the Institute.


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