The 1984 Olympic downhill skiing champion Bill Johnson has died aged 55 ©Getty Images

The United States’ first-ever Alpine skiing Olympic gold medallist Bill Johnson has died after a long illness aged 55, it has been announced.

Johnson won the downhill title at the Sarajevo 1984 Winter Olympic Games in a time of 1min 45.49sec to beat Switzerland’s Peter Müller by 0.27 seconds.

The controversial skier from Los Angeles famously predicted that he would win the Olympic gold in the event before the race had started.

Following his victory in Sarajevo, Johnson was forced to undergo surgery on his left knee in December 1986.

After he recovered, he could not reach the heights of his Olympic triumphs as his performance level began to drop and he was unable to defend his gold medal as he was left out of the American team for the 1988 Games in Calgary.

He was given a suspension towards the end of 1988, which he later admitted was for a locker-room fallout with his assistant coach, and opted to retire from the sport in 1990.

Johnson then endured a turbulent period outside of skiing as his 13-month old son tragically died in 1991 and he divorced from his wife Gina Ricci a year later.

Bill Johnson became America's first-ever Olympic downhill skiing champion at Sarajevo 1984 ©Getty Images
Bill Johnson became America's first-ever Olympic downhill skiing champion at Sarajevo 1984 ©Getty Images

Johnson attempted to make a comeback for the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City but crashed in training in Montana ahead of the 2001 World Championships, which left him with a traumatic brain injury.

Though he made steady improvement following the crash, his health began to deteriorate after he suffered a series of strokes.

He passed away at an assisted living facility in Oregon.

“It's really sad," Lindsey Vonn, one of only three American downhill skiers to win an Olympic gold medal along with Johnson and Tommy Moe, said.

“He's had a rough couple of years and it's been sad to watch him deteriorate like that.

“But you know when you're in a state like that I think it's a blessing sometimes.

“He was an incredible legend in our sport so I just hope he rests in peace and my condolences to his family."