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Cave Johnson

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Cave Johnson
Biographical information



Late 1980s

Function(s) / Belongings
Rank / Occupation

Founder and CEO of Aperture Science (1940s[1] - late 1980s[2])

Physical description




Hair color


Eye color


Chronological and political information

Aperture Science

Game information
Voiced by

J.K. Simmons[3]

Modeled over

Bill Fletcher[4]

Voice sample(s)

"All right, I've been thinking. When life gives you lemons? Don't make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! 'I don't want your damn lemons! What am I supposed to do with these?' Demand to see life's manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I'm the man who's going to burn your house down! With the lemons! I'm going to get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down! [cough]"
― Cave Johnson[src]

Cave Johnson was the founder of the applied sciences company Aperture Science, and was its CEO until he died as a result of moon-rock poisoning in the late 1980s.[2]

As one of his last requests, his right-hand and secretary Caroline became his successor.


Early career[edit]

In his youth, Cave Johnson, son of a professor of farming at a local farm college,[5] became a successful business entrepreneur, and, some time before 1943, founded Aperture Fixtures, a shower curtain developer and manufacturer. Much of Johnson's early success came from Aperture Fixtures, and with the company developing high-tech shower curtains for most branches of the United States military as well as the public,[2] Johnson soon became a billionaire and won the Shower Curtain Salesman of 1943 award. Making use of his new wealth, in 1944 Johnson purchased a huge salt mine in Upper Michigan, whose tunnels extended over four kilometers below the surface. The main Aperture Fixtures facility was constructed within the underground caverns. According to the headline from the Michigan newspaper The UP Pioneer Press seen in Test Shaft 09, Johnson is referred to as a "local" entrepreneur; he may then have been a native from or may have been living in Michigan for some time when he purchased the mine.

Johnson's early achievements on display in the lobby of Aperture Science.

Following this, in 1947 Johnson decided to take a more broad scientific approach to Aperture Fixtures, and promptly renamed the company "Aperture Science". Johnson began to focus on experimental physics as new direction for the company, and although Johnson was well known for his unorthodox approach to science, Aperture Science received an award for Best New Science Company in 1947.

By the 1950s, Aperture Science was prospering. Within the Aperture Science Enrichment Center, Johnson took an active role in the company's testing of products, making voice announcements and pre-recorded messages to address Test Subjects, that consisted of specially selected astronauts, Olympians and war heroes. Johnson was aided by his assistant Caroline during this time, who remained loyal to him for decades to come. By this time, Aperture was in the process of developing the Quantum Tunneling Device, and various prototypes were utilized in the many test chambers rapidly constructed in Test Shaft 09 and beyond.[6]

Financial troubles[edit]

However, by the 1960s, Aperture's financial boom period had passed, and with countless products stuck in the testing phase as well as many being pulled from shelves for violating health and safety regulations, Aperture was beginning to struggle. In 1961, Johnson ordered the lower areas of Test Shaft 09 to be sealed off to hide the highly unethical experiments Aperture had been conducting. In 1968, Aperture Science was involved in U.S. Senate hearings regarding astronauts going missing following their participation in testing.[6]

Cave Johnson in the 1970s.

Later in 1968, Aperture was declared bankrupt. As a result, the company could no longer afford esteemed members of society for testing, and resorted to collecting homeless people from the street to participate in testing for the promise of sixty dollars. Johnson was quite bitter about Aperture's bankruptcy, and did not attempt to hide his dislike for the homeless people he was forced to hire. Johnson blamed Black Mesa for Aperture's financial troubles, claiming that the rival company was stealing their ideas. However, Johnson could not support these accusations and Black Mesa remained the more stable company.[6]

By October 1976, Johnson had Aperture branch out in its selection of "low risk" test subjects to include child orphans, psychiatric patients and the elderly.[7]

Decline of health and death[edit]

By the 1980s, Aperture remained in financial turmoil. Desperate for a successful new product, in 1981 Johnson purchased approximately seventy million dollars-worth of Moon rocks for use in further mobility gel development, despite not having nearly enough money to cover the costs. Upon discovering that moon dust serves as a remarkable portal conductor, Johnson took an active role in its implementation into Conversion Gel. However, during the development of the Conversion Gel, Johnson contracted a severe illness as a result of prolonged exposure to moon dust, which slowly damaged his respiratory system and caused both of his kidneys to fail.[8]

A mandatory employee testing area in the 1980s, with a portrait of an older, ill Cave Johnson on the wall.

Dying, brain damaged, and incapable of realizing time was not flowing backwards, Johnson planned out a three-tier research and development program to ensure Aperture's success into the "fast-approaching distant past". In it, he detailed the "Heimlich Counter-Maneuver", the "Take-a-Wish Foundation" and renewed development of the Quantum Tunneling Device.[2] Furthermore, in response to Aperture's continued struggle for test subjects, Johnson made testing mandatory for all employees.[8]

During this time, Johnson continued to make pre-recorded messages over the intercom system, however few were on the subject of testing, and instead addressed employees about the future of the company, and many had Johnson raging over his imminent demise. Desperate to cheat death, in 1982 Johnson ordered his engineers to begin research and development on a computer system that could store his consciousness. However, should the system not be completed before his death, Johnson ordered that his ever loyal assistant Caroline succeed him as CEO of Aperture, and have her consciousness uploaded instead, regardless of any protests she might have.[8] Johnson died before the system was finished and, as per his dying command, Caroline was forced to become part of GLaDOS' personality makeup.[9][10]

Posthumously, Johnson's prerecorded messages were still issued over the PA system in Aperture, primarily to mark trivial events, such as telling employees to resume working. This practice continued into the later stages of GLaDOS' development, but apparently ended after her takeover of the facility.[11]


Graffiti and pasted photos left by Rattmann featuring Cave Johnson's username and password.


In Portal, Johnson is only referred to once in the game, in a graffiti by Doug Rattmann found in Test Chamber 17, simply as cjohnson (followed by tier3) scribbled on a wall, which appeared to be an administrator login and password for Above can be found three images of men in suits with their heads masked by a Weighted Companion Cube. The bottom-left one, based on a painted portrait of Sam Rayburn, has the words "Our Founder" under it and the letters "R.I.P." right beside.

Portal 2[edit]

In Portal 2, Johnson appears to be deceased, with only his automated pre-recorded voice messages playing to guide Chell through the forgotten bowels of the facility.

Perpetual Testing Initiative[edit]

In the Perpetual Testing Initiative, which takes place in an alternate timeline in which he did not die of moon rock poisoning, Cave Johnson wants to lessen Aperture's spending to avoid bankruptcy. In order to do so, he establishes the Extra-Earth Outsourcing Initiative. Instead of having Test Chambers built in our own dimension, known as Earth One, the plans are sent to versions of Aperture Science in other dimensions within the multiverse, and these alternate Apertures will then build the Test Chambers. Along with a different version of Aperture Science, come different versions of Cave Johnson.

Personality and skills[edit]

Cave Johnson is said to have learned to trust his gut. A big picture thinker, he did not expand on details. He apparently did not really know how science works, but he knew how people "work". He was used to getting what he wants. He was extroverted, enthusiastic and opinionated. He seems to have been very energetic, perhaps even impulsive, and considered that life is an adventure he was happy to be on. He was born a salesman, a leader, an evangelist. People trusted him, even when his plans were clearly dangerous. He used his warm, homespun delivery to put people at ease. He did not seem to accept the responsibility that comes with his power. Either he did not see or chose not to see the ramifications of his actions and experiments.[12]

The results of the Aperture Science Collaborative Disposition Test tell that Johnson does not see crises - only challenging opportunities ("challengitunities") he chooses to scale like mountains, that he is a can-do, shoot-from-the-hip, silver-tongued self-starter, and a good match for any cooperative test partner, providing they shut up and listen.

Related Achievements[edit]

Portal 2
PORTRAIT.jpg Portrait of a Lady (10G)
Find a hidden portrait.

Behind the scenes[edit]

Originally, Cave Johnson was to be the game's primary antagonist, talking about every chamber entered by the early protagonist Mel, while GLaDOS had only cameo appearances.[13] Desiring to live forever, he had his engineers at Aperture put his essence in a device, making him into an artificial intelligence. As the game progressed, Cave would begin to realize how much humanity he had lost. The rest of the story would be the tale of Cave trying to become a robot and leading a robot uprising. The bots and Cave would gain power. Eventually, they would put the player on trial for having committed war crimes against their brothers-in-arms, the robots turrets, which the player would inevitably have abused in the course of the game.[14] During the development of the Peer Review DLC, Valve envisioned a plan for a singleplayer campaign, detailing the Adventure Sphere, teaming up with one of ATLAS and P-body, who were to encounter Cave Johnson's AI. However, this was abandoned due to lack of resources.[14]

The casting sheet.

A casting call conducted by Shana Landsburg for Portal 2 was posted on the subscribers-only industry website Breakdown Express on June 8, 2008, with a concept art portrait of Cave Johnson. That call sheet, seeking a voice-over artist to take on the role of Johnson, an "eccentric dead billionaire", with work tentatively to start at the end of July 2008, was the first hint that Johnson would appear in Portal 2. The call sheet revealed many bits of Johnson's fate and personality, that he speaks with a slight Southern/Western accent ("natural, not too broad"), and how his role evolves as the game progresses.[12]

Cave Johnson's physical appearance changed several times over the development of Portal 2. The casting call portrait of Cave, which shows an elderly man in a suit and a tie with little to no facial hair, was painted over a photograph of a conservative American businessman and politician Ross Perot.[15] An alternate portrait reuses a portrait of actor Larry Hagman as his character J.R. Ewing from the 2012 reboot of the TV series Dallas.[16] Cave Johnson's image was drastically changed for the Aperture Science Collaborative Disposition Test in April 2011 to a slightly younger appearance, showing Johnson with sideburns and brighter hair; the shirt and tie were also replaced by a turtleneck sweater. This appearance was based on that of Portal 2 lead animator, Bill Fletcher.[17] Interestingly, the 1950s portrait of Cave Johnson seen in the lobby entrance for Test Subjects at the Aperture Science Innovators bears resemblance to a photo of Walt Disney.[18][19]

During the development of the game, an idea of finding and killing Cave Johnson was present. According to Erik Wolpaw, the player would encounter the CEO of Aperture Science with his consciousness uploaded to a computer; he would reside in a crummy, plugged into a wall box. Despising his situation, Johnson would ask Chell to unplug him, therefore ending his life. The computer would also allow her to proceed further - carrying it across the room and standing on it, she could reach a previously inaccessible ledge. The sequence was ultimately cut as it proved to be difficult to be explained to the player.[20] Indeed, the Portal 2 game files still feature a cut dialogue between Johnson, GLaDOS, and Chell. He was to be found during the chapter The Reunion, on the map sp_a3_portal_intro.[21] The full dialogue can be read here.

An excerpt of the now obsolete Aperture Science and Johnson's history revealed through the NOTES command on

By signing into with the username CJOHNSON and the password TIER3 (referring to the three tiered program), one could enter Cave Johnson's account. These login and password can be found in Rattmann scribblings spread around the Enrichment Center's maintenance area seen during Portal, with the words "trust me" right to it. After logging in as Cave Johnson, "GLaDOS v1.07a (c) 1982 Aperture Science, Inc." appeared. Then one could type either APPLY to start the Enrichment Center Test Subject Application Process, or NOTES, which gave information about Aperture Science and Johnson's history, in the form of a short timeline.[22] When Valve retconned Aperture and Cave's story, they took the command line offline.

Originally, the cause of Cave Johnson's death was an exposure to mercury. According to, and the Aperture Science timeline on Game Informer, in 1974, Cave Johnson is exposed to that element while secretly developing a dangerous mercury-injected rubber sheeting from which he plans to manufacture seven deadly shower curtains to be given as gifts to each member of the House Naval Appropriations committee.[22][23] On, "1978" and "1979" were originally given as the date for Johnson's poisoning and kidney failure, respectively. These dates were later retconned to 1974 and 1976, as seen in the updated Aperture Science timeline on Game Informer. They were later replaced by yet another dates as featured in Portal 2 and the Official Guide.

The cardboard figure.

In the file dump retrieved at the BBS number (425) 822-5251 revealed during the Portal ARG, several memos seemingly written by Cave Johnson can be found. In one, he describes the three pillars on which Aperture Science is built. In another, he addresses Test Subjects who raised their concerns about the dangers of the research conducted by Aperture Science. Another consists of a rant about casualty rates, firing employees, and him practicing beekeeping in his office. In another, reusing text from the casting call sheet revealed in 2008, he apparently announces his death, and being able to write memos from beyond the grave. One is apparently the answer to a confidential letter Johnson sent, titled "Human Enrichment & Testing Initiative, Resource Acquisitions". It apparently describes the four types of Test Subjects and their behavior, referring to them in a less than human way.[7]

A case of the diorama exhibit sequence cut from Portal 2 was to contain a cardboard figure of Cave Johnson posing with a bearded hobo, someone in a straitjacket, and a little girl with the Aperture logo on her dress, against the background of with a blue Aperture logo.[14] The texture for the cardboard figure is present in the Portal 2 files, under the name "diorama_card001.vtf".

Cave Johnson narrated the four weekly videos that lead up to Portal 2's release: Panels, Bot Trust, Turrets, and Boots, presented as informational videos intended for customers of Aperture products. He also narrated the Perpetual Testing Initiative trailer.

An e-mail from Johnson can be seen on the Apple games page for Portal, informing members of the executive team of some information that should not be revealed to any Test Subjects, as it would "impair the scientific value of what we're doing here at Aperture Science."[24] The information is revealed below the e-mail, and it consists of common console commands. In the e-mail, Johnson states that he is "busy cheating death".


List of appearances[edit]

Main games[edit]



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