4-States sport celebrity Cat Johnson passes away

JOPLIN, Mo. - Gary "Cat" Johnson passed away Tuesday night at a hospital in St. Louis. He was 59. Johnson was an icon in Joplin's high school basketball history and most recently known for his businesses, Cat Johnson's Taste of the South restaurant and Cat Johnson's Auto Sales.

"It is with tremendous sadness that I must post that Gary 'Cat' Johnson has passed away this evening. He passed away while in the hospital in St. Louis," posted a friend on the Cat Johnson's Taste of the South Facebook page. "He was my friend and I am saddened at his passing. I love ya my dear friend, may you find the peace your earthly soul could never really capture and hold."

Gary "Cat" Johnson was a point guard who directed Memorial High School (now JHS) in Joplin to two state championships in 1977 and 1978, according to the Joplin Sports Authority Hall of Fame. In 1978, he led Memorial by scoring a school-record 50 points in the quarterfinals. Johnson averaged 20 points per game in high school. He held school records in scoring, assists and steals.

Johnson attended Oral Roberts University where he averaged 15 points and eight assists per game during the 1981 - 1982 season. He was named to the ORU Hall of Fame in 2008.

The New Jersey Nets drafted Johnson in the ninth round of the NBA and played professionally in England for eight years.

He was inducted to the Joplin Sports Authority Hall of Fame in 2001.

Johnson had been battling health problems before he passed away Tuesday night.

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