But the news also stirred warm memories of his brief chat with the king over a ham radio in his rural Endeavor home.
They spoke for five minutes on a radio in his living room on Christmas Eve, 1989.
"I heard his low, deep voice, and I knew it was him right away,'' Johnson recalled Sunday. ``He asked me where I had learned Arabic so well.''
Johnson explained that he had picked up some Arabic from Jordanian friends in the U.S. and on a brief trip to Jordan.
Johnson had been trying for years to catch King Hussein's call sign -- JY1 -- on his short wave radio. A ham radio operator since he was 14, Johnson had heard that Hussein shared his passion.
"I think we've lost a good friend of amateur radio, as well as one of the greatest leaders of our time,'' Johnson said.
Johnson caught up with Hussein when he heard the tail end of a conversation Hussein was having with someone else, then quickly fired off his own call sign -- W9XY. Hussein was vacationing with his family in Aqaba, Jordan, on the Red Sea, and the king had stayed up until 2 a.m. talking on his radio.
For Johnson, it was just 6 p.m. in Endeavor.
"A hundred people probably wanted to contact him that night,'' Johnson said. ``I was just lucky to get through.''
Since the encounter, Johnson, who works at a Motorola radio service shop in Portage, has visited Jordan three more times.
Johnson last heard Hussein's voice on his radio last summer, though he didn't speak directly to him. The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota set up a radio for the king to operate, before and after his cancer treatments.
"He was so down to earth,'' Johnson recalled of
Hussein. ``I was impressed that somebody in such an important position would
take time out for a hobby where he could just talk with average people.''
Followup Article Which
Appeared in Weekend Edition