Cookie Johnson, the wife of retired basketball great Magic Johnson, has revealed that she fell to her knees when her husband first told her he had contracted HIV in 1991.
The couple recalled how they felt during the trying time in a new interview with Good Morning America, and discussed how their marriage has lasted 25 years.
‘It scared me to death. I mean, I fell to my knees,’ Cookie told co-anchor Robin Roberts. ‘We both fell on our knees and we started crying.’
‘I’m gonna stay here and help you live’: Cookie Johnson discussed what she went through when she learned Magic was HIV positive in 1991, and why she chose to stay
The couple had only been married for 45 days when, in 1991, Magic had to admit to his wife that he had contracted HIV and that she needed to be tested for the virus
The GMA interview is a rare insight into the couple’s relationship, with Cookie shunning the spotlight for the majority of the pair’s marriage.
In it she discusses why she chose to stay with Magic after he revealed to her that he was HIV positive, which was announced to the world at a press conference in November 1991, when Magic retired from the Los Angeles Lakers.
At the time Magic was the team’s star player, and he had only been married to Cookie for 45 days. However she says it never occurred to her to leave.
‘I didn’t have time to get mad about whatever happened, you know, or start asking questions. [My mind] went to ‘He is possibly going to die,” Cookie said.
‘There wasn’t a lot of knowledge [about HIV] back in 1991.’
The couple appeared together for the interview Tuesday, discussing their marriage and family
Nuptials: In 1991, Johnson married Earlitha ‘Cookie’ Kelly in a small wedding in Lansing
Historic: In November 1991 Magic Johnson fronted a press conference and announced to the world he was HIV positive and that he was retiring from basketball
Cookie was pregnant with her first child when Magic told her he had HIV. She was tested immediately, but she and the baby were negative
Cookie continued: ‘He said, ”If you want to leave, you know, I don’t blame you. It’s OK. I understand.” Then I said, ”Are you kidding me? No. I love you. I’m gonna stay here and help you live. I’m gonna stay here and we’re gonna beat this thing. We’re gonna figure out how to beat this thing”.’
A major part of the reason for staying together, Cookie remembers, is that the newlyweds had just discovered they were pregnant with their first baby.
Cookie had to be tested for HIV, and wait 10 days for the results, which she described as ‘agonizing’. However doctors explain that if the mother is negative, the baby is automatically negative.
The couple were relieved to be told Cookie had not contracted the virus. To this day Magic has not disclosed how he contracted it either, but has said it was likely from a sexual partner during his playing career.
Johnson and Cookie have one son, Earvin III (EJ), and also adopted a daughter, Elisa, in 1995
Magic also credits his wife for helping him get through the diagnosis and begin treatment for the virus.
‘This woman here, God let me know why I married her, why he brought us together,’ Magic said. ‘I know when I come here [home], I’m not Magic. I’m Earvin. We’re still those kids from Michigan. I’m only as good as Cookie.’
Cookie also discussed in the interview how she and her husband accepted their eldest son, E.J., is gay. While Cookie said she eventually came to terms with it, Magic found it a lot harder.
‘Ultimately you want your child to be happy,’ she said.
‘But I also knew that Earvin didn’t understand. And I was still trying to figure it out. I’m not going to sit here and say that I understood that he was gay at that time, because I didn’t. I just knew that this is what made him happy. And as time went on, it never changed.’
Family: Magic and Cookie Johnson had a son together, EJ, who is now a reality star, and also adopted a daughter, Elisa, in 1995
EJ Johnson and Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson attend the 2014 Carousel of Hope Ball at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on October 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills