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Heir to Johnson & Johnson fortune dies at 76

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 4, 2013 at 11:27 am •  Published: April 4, 2013

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — She was a Polish farmer's daughter who emigrated to the United States, a maid who worked for a wealthy American heir, and a third wife who inherited much of the Johnson & Johnson fortune after a sensational court battle with her six stepchildren.

Barbara Piasecka Johnson, the widow of J. Seward Johnson Sr., heir to millions made from bandages, baby oil and pharmaceutical products, has died at age 76.

Johnson was best known for a nasty legal battle after her husband's 1983 death, a feud that pitted her against his six children from two previous marriages. She largely prevailed, emerging with about $300 million from a fortune worth more than $500 million.

A resident of Monaco and one of the world's richest women, Johnson used her wealth to become an art collector, amassing works by Rembrandt, Rubens, Gauguin and Raphael.

Her family announced her death Thursday in the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita, saying she died "after a long and serious illness" and that she will be buried April 15 in Wroclaw, the southwestern Polish city where she spent much of her youth.

Johnson died in Wroclaw, said Ricky Stachowicz, general counsel for BPJ Holding Corp., Johnson's Princeton, New Jersey-based private real-estate holding company. The cause of death was not being disclosed at the request of her family, Stachowicz said.

Barbara Piasecka, who went by the diminutive "Basia," was born in 1937 in Staniewicze, in an area of prewar eastern Poland that now lies in Belarus. Her family resettled after the war in Wroclaw, where she obtained a degree in art history.

She left communist Poland, studying for a time in Rome before arriving in 1968 in the United States with $100 and no knowledge of English. She got a job working as a cook and a maid in the Oldwick, New Jersey, estate of the Johnson & Johnson heir and his second wife of more than 30 years.

A year later, she left the family to take art courses at New York University, and Johnson Sr. rented an apartment for her in Manhattan and moved in with her.

In 1971, he divorced his second wife, the mother of two of his children, and married Piasecka eight days later. None of his children attended the wedding. At the time he was 76 and she was 34.

Johnson Sr., son of the founder of Johnson & Johnson, bequeathed most of his fortune of more than $500 million to Piasecka, largely excluding from his will both his children and Harbor Branch, an oceanographic research institute in Florida that he had founded.

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