Mortality, along with the loss and suffering which it evokes, is a pervasive presence in much of Ray Johnson's work. His art encompasses the recognition that all living things will die, integrating recurrent accounts of the actual or possible death of colleagues, friends or living creatures.
In his appropriation of found texts and media imagery Ray Johnson often ironically echoed the sentimental tone and stupefying narratives about death which exist in media and popular culture. As when he makes reference to the Dionne Quintuplets or to the sudden death of a young girl, Johnson imposes a lively commentary by strategically detaching the media information from its original context.
Johnson also documented the way in which one's working process also dies - whether at the level of personal motivation or as a result of the failure of broader external circumstances. An example of this is the death of the New York Correspondance School. Having operated under the name of the New York Correspondance School for a decade, in 1973 Ray Johnson suddenly declared that it had died. The death of the New York Correspondance School, and with it the end of the first wave of mail art, can be seen in relation to the widespread disillusionment with the cultural politics of the 1968 era including the aspirations of neo-dada and anti-object art. References to The Dead School and related thoughts would continue to resurface in Johnson's work throughout the remainder of his life.
Finding an end point to the experience of his life and art, Johnson took his life by jumping off a bridge at Sag Harbor, Long Island in 1995.