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Johnson & Johnson heiress dies

The heir to the Johnson & Johnson family fortune and one of the world's wealthiest women, Barbara Piasecka Johnson, has died aged 76 after a long illness in her native Poland.
Piasecka Johnson, 1986, following the settlement of the legal battle with her stepchildren
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© Press Association

The heir to the Johnson & Johnson family fortune and one of the world's wealthiest women, Barbara Piasecka Johnson, has died aged 76 after a long illness in her native Poland.

Piasecka Johnson became famous when she married the 76-year-old second-gen of the pharmaceuticals family business, John Seward Johnson, the heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune. He was 42 years her senior and left his wife of 32 years – Esther Underwood – to be with her.

Piasecka Johnson moved to the US in 1968, with limited knowledge of English, but equipped with a degree in art history from the University of Wroclaw. She worked as a cook and chambermaid for the Johnson family in New Jersey for nine months before moving to New York to study English.

Seward Johnson sent a car, so the story goes, to take her back to New Jersey, confessing his love for her in his office. In a People magazine interview in 1986, Piasecka Johnson said the declaration came as something of a surprise as the language barrier meant they could hardly speak to each other.

After her husband's death in 1983, she faced bitter legal battles with her six stepchildren over his $500 million (€383.8 million) estate – they accused her of manipulating him into leaving her the majority of his fortune. The case was eventually settled out of court.

According to the Forbes, Piasecka Johnson was the 42nd richest woman in the world with a fortune estimated in 2013 of $3.6 billion. She was officially a resident of Monaco at the time of her death.

She was a prolific art collector and philanthropist, supporting numerous autism-related causes through the Barbara Piasecka Johnson Foundation.

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