"I will never look that good again, I will never have that energy again. It’s gone, I am 76, it is over," Betsey Johnson told PEOPLE

By Reagan Alexander
May 04, 2019 12:50 PM
Credit: Tasia Wells/Getty Images

You can’t keep a good woman down, or, in Betsey Johnson‘s case, you can’t keep a good woman from doing the splits.

Just over three weeks from undergoing open-heart surgery the 76-year-old fashion icon dazzled at the Women’s Guild Cedars-Sinai Gala in Beverly Hills on Friday. A beaming Johnson did her trademark splits on the red carpet, then posed with a homemade poster board (with an assist from her granddaughter) that said, simply, “Thanks to all of the beautiful people at Cedars-Sinai who took care of my heart. With Love, XOX Betsey.”

And while the ebullient designer spoke with PEOPLE and proceeded to toss rose petals into the air, she admitted that her recovery has been far from easy.

“A couple of days ago I felt, ‘I will never feel right. I will never get back to the real me. I will never look that good again, I will never have that energy again. It’s gone, I am 76, it is over,’ ” Johnson said.

But hope, and an indomitable spirit, was always on the horizon for the fashion firebrand.

“Every day I feel better and better and better, and I am getting closer to realizing that I can be that person again, that I don’t need to throw in the towel,” she said. “There were times where you just felt like you had to throw in the towel because you felt like you just could never make it back to that you were before, but I am getting there.”

And getting there with a flourish, but Johnson also admits to having the help of a mysterious, spiritual figure that visited her in the hospital just days after her procedure.

“When I was at Cedars,” the proud grandmother said, “About three days after my surgery, this beautiful Tibetan voodoo guy, this beautiful Tibetan man in grey, he comes over, and we were talking, and he was, like, my angel.”

Johnson added with a laugh, “I went looking for him the next day, I went to the front desk and I said, ‘Wait a minute. There was a guy yesterday.’ And they said, ‘There is no one wearing grey here.’ He had hung out for about a half an hour and I was trying to track him down, but he was just this Buddha person that came to me.”

Johnson — attending the gala that honored Jane and Marc Nathanson, and featured a performance by the trio Wilson Phillips — also said “for the past few weeks I have been feeling f—— great.”

And to punctuate the point, more rose petals made flight. “The splits are a piece of cake, cartwheels will take a little of time. When you can do a split you can always split,” Johnson added.