The former Radio 3 favourite died at a hospital in London on Monday after battling three strokes and a heart operation, friends said.
Childhood friend DJ King Jay said Johns, known by the nickname ‘The Radio Driver’, “had been ill for sometime following a triple heart bypass several years ago.”
“He was arguably Zimbabwe’s finest DJ,” King Jay said on Twitter.In December last year, Johns’ eldest son Mark opened up about his father’s health troubles, revealing that he had suffered three strokes and a heart attack.
Mark spoke after Johns was admitted to a hospital in South London.
“Although he is in a stable condition, he has lost the ability to speak and write,” Mark said at the time.
Friends say he never recovered, drawing the curtain on the life of “one of Zimbabwe’s greatest presenters ever,” according to broadcaster Steve Vickers who joined an outpouring of tributes on Twitter.
Johns was “suave, gifted and brilliant,” added journalist Brezhnev Malaba.
“PJ Your DJ on Radio 3 was pure bliss,” journalist Nqaba Matshazi tweeted. “I remember the Top 20 countdown which culminated in the Top 100 on New Year’s Day. Don’t get me started on the monthly shows at Visions (Bulawayo nightclub). You have run your race Peter Johns, thanks for providing the soundtracks to our adolescence. RIP legend!”
In 1981, after the launch of Radio 3, now Power FM, John Matinde who was the manager responsible for recruitment at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation gave Johns his first break – a part-time slot every Sunday evening.
Johns would go on to have a stellar career – over 20 memorable years on the club scene and as a radio DJ until he left the ZBC in 2002. In that time, PJ had built a cult following with his shows, Weekend Love and Monday Mellow Madness.
The DJ enjoyed weekend residency at a popular Harare nightclub, Scamps, and had a mobile disco business which kept his diary full. “He was very passionate about his career as a DJ, and took a professional attitude to it,” according to music researcher Fred Zindi.
PJ interviewed Shaba Ranks during his visit to Zimbabwe in the 1990s and also landed several other big sit-downs with international stars including Maxi Priest, King Sounds and Jimmy Cliff.
The introduction of satellite television brought another break for PJ — TV broadcasting. Sponsored programmes, such as music video show Coca-Cola on the Beat, brightened his star further.
PJ turned his back on Zimbabwe in 2002, apparently despondent over restructuring at the ZBC. He left for England where he studied digital broadcasting and packaging. He also worked for two internet radio station, while continuing taking bookings for gigs from the growing Zimbabwean community.
PJ suffered a series of medical misfortunes, starting in 2009 when, according to Zindi, he had a heart operation.
On a visit to London, Zindi recalls Johns showing him scars on his chest from the operation.
“The sight really frightened me,” Zindi said.
He would suffer a series of strokes and undergo more heart procedures in the years that followed, making rare public appearances to fulfil bookings.
“In the last four or five months, he completely disappeared from the entertainment scene,” said DJ Welly T, who has performed alongside Johns in the UK. “The last time we performed together he looked okay, but you could tell he was unwell. That was PJ, showbusiness was his calling and he always strove to honour a fixture with his fans.”