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Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash performing, circa 1994
Born: February 26, 1932
Kingsland, Arkansas
Died: September 12, 2003
Nashville, Tennessee
Occupation: Singer, guitarist and songwriter

Johnny Cash (February 26, 1932 - September 12, 2003) was an influential American country music and rock music singer, guitarist and songwriter and the husband of June Carter Cash.

Cash was known for his deep, distinctive voice, the boom-chick-a-boom or "freight train" sound of his Tennessee Three backing band, and his dark clothing and demeanor, which earned him the nickname "The Man in Black." He started all his concerts with the simple introduction: "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."

Much of Cash's music, especially that of his later career, echoed themes of sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption. Hits include "I Walk the Line", "Folsom Prison Blues", "Ring of Fire", "Man In Black" and a cover of the Nine Inch Nails song, "Hurt". He also recorded several humorous songs, such as "One Piece At A Time", "The One on the Right is on the Left" and "A Boy Named Sue"; bouncy numbers such as "Get Rhythm"; and various train-related songs, such as "The Rock Island Line".

In a career that spanned almost five decades, Cash was the personification of country music to many people around the world, despite his distaste for the Nashville mainstream. Yet, like Ray Charles, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley, Cash was a musician who transcended genre. He recorded songs that could be considered rock and roll, blues, rockabilly, folk and gospel, and exerted an influence on each of those genres. Moreover, he had the unique distinction among country artists of having "crossed over" late in his career to become popular with an unexpected demographic, young indie and alternative rock fans. His diversity was evidenced by his presence in three major music halls of fame: the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Only ten performers are in both of the first two, and only Hank Williams Sr. and Jimmie Rodgers share the honor with Cash of being in all three. His pioneering contribution to the genre has also been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.


Early life

"The Man in Black" was born J.R. Cash (no middle name) in Kingsland, Arkansas, and then raised in Dyess, Arkansas. By age five he was working in the cotton fields, singing along with his family as they worked. The family farm was flooded on at least one occasion, which later inspired him to write the song "Five Feet High And Rising." His family's economic and personal struggles during the Depression (when Cash was growing up) shaped him as a person and inspired many of his songs, especially those about other people facing personal struggles.

Cash had assumed in his younger days that he was mainly Irish and partially Native American (he had been told he was one-quarter Cherokee). However, upon researching his ancestry, he found he was of completely Scottish heritage. As a matter of fact, he found records of direct ancestors in Scotland who shared the name "Cash" dating back to the 16th century, according to his 1997 autobiography.

Although lacking any Native American ancestry, Cash's empathy and compassion for Native Americans was unabated, and was expressed in several of his songs, like "Apache Tears", "Ballad of Ira Hayes"; and his album "Bitter Tears", songs told from the viewpoint of Native Americans.

Cash was very close to his brother Jack, who was two years older. In 1944, Jack was pulled into a whirling table saw in the mill where he worked, and almost cut in two. He suffered for over a week before he died. There was some talk that Jack's death might not have been accidental; a local bully was seen running from the shop shortly before Jack was found. However, Cash did not discuss that theory in his autobiography, nor the report in some circles that Cash made investigation of the incident a personal obsession. Cash often spoke of the horrible guilt he felt over this incident. According to Cash: The Autobiography, his father was away that morning, but he and his mother, and Jack himself, all had premonitions or a sense of forboding about that day, and his mother urged Jack to skip work and go fishing with his brother. Jack insisted on working, as the family needed the money. On his deathbed, Jack said he had visions of Heaven and angels. Decades later, Cash spoke of looking forward to meeting his brother in Heaven. He wrote that he had seen his brother many times in his dreams, and that Jack always looked two years older than whatever age Cash himself was at that moment. It is widely thought that the dark side of his world view was shaped by this traumatic event.

Cash's early memories were dominated by gospel music and radio. He began playing guitar and writing songs as a young boy, and in high school sang on a local radio station. Decades later, he would release an album of traditional gospel songs, called "My Mother's Hymn Book".

He was given the name J.R. on his birth certificate, reportedly because his parents could not agree on a name, only on initials. (Giving children names consisting of only initials was not uncommon in those days.) He enlisted as a radio operator in the United States Air Force. The military would not accept just initials as his name, so he adopted John R. Cash as his given name, which came to be his legal name. When he signed for Sun Records in 1955, his name changed again, to Johnny Cash. His friends and in-laws generally called him John (not Johnny, which was regarded as a stage name) and his blood relatives often still called him by his birth name, J.R.

Early career

Johnny Cash with guitar in 1958.
Johnny Cash with guitar in 1958

During his stretch in the Air Force, Cash founded his first band, called the "Landsberg Barbarians", named for Air Force base in Landsberg am Lech, Germany.

After his term of service ended, Cash married Vivian Liberto in 1954 and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he sold appliances (or tried to) while studying to be a radio announcer. At night, he played with guitarist Luther Perkins and bass player Marshall Grant (together known as the Tennessee Two). Cash worked up the courage to visit the Sun Records studio, hoping to garner a recording contract. Sun producer Cowboy Jack Clement met with the young singer first, and suggested that Cash return to meet producer Sam Phillips. After auditioning for Phillips, singing mainly gospel tunes, Phillips told him to "go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell." Cash eventually won over Phillips and Clement with new songs delivered in his early frenetic style. His first recordings at Sun, "Hey Porter" and "Cry Cry Cry," were released in 1955 and met with reasonable success on the country hit parade.

Cash's next record, "Folsom Prison Blues," made the country Top 5, and "I Walk the Line" was No. 1 on the country charts, making it into the pop charts Top 20. In 1957, Cash became the first Sun artist to release a long-playing album. Although he was Sun's most consistently best- selling and prolific artist at that time, Cash felt constrained by his contract with the small label. Elvis Presley had already left the label, and Phillips was focusing most of his attention and promotion on Jerry Lee Lewis. The following year, Cash left Sun to sign a lucrative offer with Columbia Records, where his single "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" would become one of his biggest hits.

In 1955, Cash's daughter, Rosanne, was born. Although he would have three more daughters (Kathleen in 1958, Cindy in 1959 and Tara in 1961) with his wife, their relationship began to sour, as he was constantly touring. It was during one of these tours that he met June Carter. Cash proposed onstage to Carter at a concert at the London Gardens in London, Ontario on February 22, 1968; the couple married a week later in Franklin, Kentucky. By June's account, in the liner notes to the compilation album "Love" (2000), the song "I Still Miss Someone" was written about her.

Drug addiction

A mugshot of Johnny Cash in 1965
A mugshot of Johnny Cash in 1965

As his career was taking off in the early 1960s, Cash began drinking heavily and became addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates. For a brief time, Cash shared an apartment in Nashville with Waylon Jennings, who was heavily addicted to amphetamines. Cash used the uppers to stay awake during tours. Friends joked about his "nervousness" and erratic behavior, many ignoring the signs of his worsening drug addiction.

Although in many ways spiraling out of control, his frenetic creativity was still delivering hits. His song "Ring of Fire" was a major crossover hit, reaching No. 1 on the country charts and entering the Top 20 on the pop charts. The song was written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore and originally performed by Carter's sister, but the signature mariachi-style horn arrangement was provided by Cash, who says it came to him in a dream. The song describes the personal hell Carter went through as she wrestled with her forbidden love for Cash (they were both married to other people at the time) and as she dealt with Cash's personal "ring of fire" (drug dependency and alcoholism.)

Cash sometimes spoke of his erratic, drug-induced behavior with some degree of bemused detachment. In his 1997 autobiography, he told of how his truck caught fire and managed to trigger a forest fire that burnt down half of a national forest. When the judge asked Cash why he did it, Cash said in his then-flippant style, "I didn't do it, my truck did, and it's dead so you can't question it."

Although he carefully cultivated a romantic outlaw image, many fans are surprised to learn that he never served a prison sentence, although he landed in jail seven times for misdemeanors, each stay lasting a single night. His most serious and famous run-in with the law occurred while on tour in 1965, when he was arrested by the narcotics squad in El Paso, Texas. Although the officers suspected that he was smuggling heroin from Mexico, he was actually smuggling amphetamines inside his guitar case. (One report said that he was carrying a total of 1,163 pills). Because they were prescription drugs rather than illegal narcotics, he received a suspended sentence.

He was arrested the following year in Starkville, Mississippi, for trespassing late at night onto private property to pick flowers. (This incident gave the spark for the song "Starkville City Jail", which he spoke about on his live At San Quentin prison album.)

The mid-1960s saw Cash release a number of concept albums, including Ballads Of The True West (1965), an experimental double record mixing authentic frontier songs with Cash's spoken narration; and Bitter Tears (1964), with songs highlighting the plight of the American Indians. His drug addiction was at its worst at this point, however, and his destructive behavior led to a divorce from his wife and canceled performances.

At one point in 1967, he crawled into Nickajack Cave, high on amphetimines, with the intent of ending his life. He pulled back from tragedy but the event convinced his first wife, Vivian, who up until this point had refused to grant him a divorce, to be done with the marriage.

Cash and June Carter were married soon after Cash proposed to her during a concert in London, Ontario in 1968. Film critic Roger Ebert reported in his review of Walk the Line that, despite the "Hollywood ending" of the film, his on-stage proposal and June's acceptance actually did occur that way. The love ballad "Flesh and Blood" is one of the first of many songs Cash would write about his second wife.

"Folsom Prison Blues"

Johnny Cash's "San Quentin" album
Johnny Cash's "San Quentin" album

While an airman in West Germany, Cash became aware of the plight of prison inmates, while watching the B-movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951). This inspired him to write an early draft of one of his most famous songs, "Folsom Prison Blues".

Cash felt great compassion for prisoners. As he wrote in his 1997 autobiography, he began performing concerts at various prisons starting in the late 1950s. These performances led to a pair of highly successful live albums, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968) and Johnny Cash at San Quentin (1969).

The Folsom Prison record was introduced by a powerful rendition of his classic "Folsom Prison Blues", while the San Quentin record included the crossover hit single "A Boy Named Sue", a Shel Silverstein-penned novelty song that reached No. 1 on the country charts and No. 2 on the US Top Ten pop charts. The AM versions of the latter contained a couple of profanities which were blipped out in that more-sensitive era. The modern CD versions are unedited and uncensored, and thus also longer than the original vinyl albums, giving a good flavor of what the concerts were like, with their highly receptive audiences of convicts.

Apart from his performances at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, and various other U.S. correctional facilities, Cash also performed at Osterakeranstalten (The Osteraker Prison) north of Stockholm, Sweden in 1972. The recording was released in 1973. Between the songs Cash can be heard speaking Swedish which was greatly appreciated by the inmates.

Shortly after his historic concert at Madison Square Garden in the waning days of the 1960s, his son John Carter Cash was born.

After he quit using drugs in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Cash rediscovered his Christian faith, taking an "altar call" in Evangel Temple, a small church in the Nashville area. Cash chose this church over many other larger, celebrity churches in the Nashville area because he said he was just another man there, and not a celebrity.

"The Man in Black"

Cash advocated prison reform at his July 1972 meeting with U.S. president Richard Nixon. Cash advocated prison reform at his July 1972 meeting with U.S. president Richard Nixon

From 1969 to 1971, Cash starred in his own television show on the ABC network. The singing group The Statler Brothers got their start on the show, opening up for him in every episode. Notable rock artists appeared on his show, including Neil Young, The Monkees and Bob Dylan. Cash had been an early supporter of Dylan even before they had met, but they became friends while they were neighbors in the late 1960s in Woodstock, New York. Cash was enthusiastic about reintroducing the reclusive Dylan to his audience. In addition to the appearance on his TV show, Cash sang a duet with Dylan on his country album Nashville Skyline, and also wrote the album's Grammy-winning liner notes. Another artist who received a major career boost from The Johnny Cash Show was songwriter Kris Kristofferson. During a live performance of Kristofferson's "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," Cash made headlines when he refused to change the lyrics to suit network executives, singing the song with its controversial references to marijuana intact: "On the Sunday morning sidewalks / Wishin', Lord, that I was stoned."

Immensely popular, and an imposingly tall figure, by the early 1970s he had crystallized his public image as "The Man in Black." He regularly performed dressed all in black, wearing a long black knee-length coat. This outfit stood in stark contrast to the costumes worn by most of the major country acts in his day: rhinestone Nudie suits and cowboy boots. In 1971, Cash wrote the song "Man in Black" to help explain his dress code: "I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down, / Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town, / I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, / But is there because he's a victim of the times."

In his 1997 autobiography, he elaborated that he and his band had initially worn black shirts because that was the only matching color they had among their various outfits. He wore other colors onstage early in his career, and he said he wore any color he wanted to offstage. In addition to the "official" reasons for wearing black, he said he simply liked it.

In the mid-'70s, Cash's popularity and hit songs began to decline, but his autobiography, titled Man in Black, was published in 1975 and sold 1.3 million copies. (A second, Cash: The Autobiography, appeared in 1997). His friendship with Billy Graham led to the production of a movie about the life of Jesus, The Gospel Road, which Cash co-wrote and narrated. The decade saw his religious conviction deepening, and in addition to his regular touring schedule, he made many public appearances in an evangelical capacity.

He also continued to appear on television, hosting an annual Christmas special on CBS throughout the 1970s. Later television appearances included a role in an episode of Columbo, as well as a recurring role on >Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. He did a voice cameo on The Simpsons in the show's eighth season, playing the voice of a coyote that guides Homer on a spiritual quest (in episode 3F24). He also appeared with his wife on an episode of Little House on the Prairie entitled "The Collection" and gave a stirring performance as John Brown in the 1980s Civil War television mini-series North and South.

He was friendly with every U.S. President starting with Richard Nixon. He was least close with the last two, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, because of a personal distrust for both men and because of his declining health. He was probably closest with Jimmy Carter, who was actually a very close friend as well as a distant relative of his wife, June Carter Cash. None of these friendships were about politics, as he never particularly supported any administration but was just friendly with the nation's leaders. He stated in his 1997 book that he found all of them personally charming, noting that that fact was probably essential to getting oneself elected.

When invited to perform at the White House for the first time in 1972, President Richard Nixon's office requested that he play "Okie from Muskogee" (a Merle Haggard song that negatively portrays youthful drug users and war protesters) and "Welfare Cadillac" (a Guy Drake song that derides the integrity of welfare recipients). Cash declined to play either song and instead played a series of his own more left-leaning, politically-charged songs, including "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" (about a brave Native-American World War II veteran who was racially mistreated upon his return to Arizona), "Man in Black" and "What is Truth?"


From left to right Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, who formed the country music supergroup,  The Highwaymen.
From left to right Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, who formed the country music supergroup, The Highwaymen

In 1980, Cash became the Country Music Hall of Fame's youngest living inductee at age 48, but during the 1980s his records failed to make a major impact on the country charts, though he continued to tour successfully. In the mid-1980s he recorded and toured with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson as The Highwaymen, making two hit albums.

During this period, Cash appeared as an actor in a number of television films. In 1981, he starred in The Pride Of Jesse Hallam. Cash won fine reviews for his work in this film that called attention to adult illiteracy. In 1983, Cash also appeared as a heroic sheriff in Murder In Coweta County, which co-starred Andy Griffith as his nemesis. This film was based on a real life Georgia murder case; Cash had tried for years to make the film, which would win him acclaim.

Cash relapsed into addiction after a serious stomach injury in 1983 caused by a bizarre incident in which he was kicked and critically wounded by an ostrich he kept on his farm. He was administered painkillers as part of the recovery process, which led to a return to substance abuse. During his recovery at the Betty Ford Clinic in 1986, he met and befriended Ozzy Osbourne, one of his son's favorite singers. Cash discusses this series of events at some length in his 1997 autobiography.

At another hospital visit in 1988, this time to watch over Waylon Jennings (who was recovering from a heart attack), Jennings suggested that Cash have himself checked into the hospital for his own heart condition. Doctors recommended preventive heart surgery, and Cash underwent double bypass surgery in the same hospital. Both recovered, although Cash refused to use any prescription painkillers, fearing a relapse into dependency. Cash later claimed that during his operation, he had what is called a "near death experience". He said he had visions of Heaven that were so beautiful that he was angry when he woke up alive.

Cash's recording career and his general relationship with the Nashville establishment was at an all-time low in the 1980s. He realized his record label of nearly 30 years, Columbia, was growing indifferent to him and wasn't properly marketing him (he was "invisible" during that time, as he said in his autobiography). So, in a real-life scenario reminiscent of the Mel Brooks movie The Producers, Cash recorded an intentionally awful song, a self-parody. Chicken in Black was about Johnny's brain being transplanted into a chicken. Ironically the song turned out to be a larger commercial success than any of his other recent material. Nevertheless, he was hoping to kill the relationship with the label before they did, and it wasn't long after Chicken in Black that Columbia and Cash parted ways.

In 1986, Cash published his only novel, Man in White, a book about Saul and his conversion to become the Apostle Paul. That same year, Cash returned to Sun Studios in Memphis to team up with Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins to create the album, Class of '55. This was not the first time he had teamed up with Lewis and Perkins at Sun Studios. On December 4, 1956, Elvis Presley dropped in on Phillips to pay a social visit while Perkins was in the studio cutting new tracks with Lewis backing him on piano. The three started an impromptu jam session and Phillips left the tapes running. He later telephoned Cash and brought him in to join the others. These recordings, almost half of which were gospel songs, survived and have been released on CD under the title Million Dollar Quartet. Tracks also include Chuck Berry's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," Pat Boone's "Don't Forbid Me" and Elvis doing an impersonation of Jackie Wilson (who was then with Billy Ward and the Dominoes) singing "Don't Be Cruel."

American Recordings

After Columbia Records dropped Cash from his recording contract, he had a short and unsuccessful stint with Mercury Records.

His career was rejuvenated in the 1990s, leading to unexpected popularity and iconic status among a younger audience not traditionally interested in country music, such as aficionados of indie rock and even hip-hop. In 1993, he sang the vocal on U2's "The Wanderer" for their album Zooropa. Although he was no longer sought after by major labels, Cash was approached by producer Rick Rubin and offered a contract with Rubin's American Recordings label, better known for rap and hard rock than for country music. Under Rubin's supervision, he recorded the album American Recordings (1994) in his living room, accompanied only by his guitar. The video for the first single, the traditional song "Delia's Gone," was put into rotation on MTV, including a spot on Beavis and Butt-head. The album was hailed by critics and many declared it to be Cash's finest album since the late 1960s, while his versions of songs by more modern artists such as heavy metal band Danzig (whose frontman, Glenn Danzig, penned a song called "Thirteen" specifically for Cash) and Tom Waits helped to bring him a new audience. American Recordings received a Grammy for Contemporary Folk Album of the Year at the 1994 Grammy Awards. Cash wrote that his reception at the 1994 Glastonbury Festival was one of the highlights of his career. This was the beginning of a decade of music industry accolades and surprising commercial success. In addition to this, Cash and his wife appeared on a number of episodes of the popular television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman starring Jane Seymour. The actress thought so highly of Cash that she later named one of her twin sons after him.

For his second album with Rubin, 1996's Unchained, Cash enlisted the accompaniment of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. In addition to many of Cash's own compositions, Unchained contained songs by Soundgarden ("Rusty Cage") and Beck ("Rowboat"), as well as a guest appearance from Flea, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The album also included a cover of a classic 1962 Hank Snow song called "I've Been Everywhere", written by Geoff Mack. Despite being virtually ignored by country music radio and the Nashville establishment, Unchained received a Grammy for Best Country Album. Cash and Rubin bought a full-page ad in Billboard magazine sarcastically thanking the country music industry for its continued support, accompanied by a picture of Cash displaying his middle finger.

Sickness and death

Johnny Cash on the cover page of TIME magazine after his death on September 12, 2003
Johnny Cash on the cover page of TIME magazine after his death on September 12, 2003

In 1997, Cash was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease Shy-Drager syndrome, a diagnosis that was later altered to autonomic neuropathy associated with diabetes. His illness forced Cash to curtail his touring. He was hospitalized in 1998 with severe pneumonia, which damaged his lungs. The album American III: Solitary Man (2000) contained Cash's response to his illness, typified by a version of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down," as well as a powerful reading of U2's "One." American III: Solitary Man, just like Cash's two previous albums produced by Rick Rubin, was a Grammy winner, taking home the award for the Best Country Male Vocal Performance for Cash's version of the Neil Diamond classic "Solitary Man."

Cash released American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002), consisting partly of original material and partly of covers. The video for "Hurt", a song written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails in the early-1990s, was nominated in seven categories at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards and won the award for Best Cinematography. In February 2003, mere days before his 71st birthday, Cash won another Grammy for Best Country Male Vocal Performance for "Give My Love To Rose," a song Cash had originally recorded in the late 1950s. The music video for "Hurt," hailed by critics and fans alike as the most personal and moving music video in history, also won a Grammy for Best Short Form Video at the 2004 Grammy Awards.

June Carter Cash died of complications following heart valve replacement surgery on May 15, 2003 at the age of 73. June had told Cash to keep working, so he continued to record, and even performed a couple of surprise shows at the Carter Family Fold outside Bristol, Virginia. (The July 5, 2003 concert was his final public appearance.) At the May 21, 2003 concert, before singing "Ring of Fire", Cash read a statement about his late wife that he had written shortly before taking the stage. He spoke of how June's spirit was watching over him and how she had come to visit him before going on stage. He barely made it through the song. Despite his health issues, he talked of looking forward to the day when he could walk again and toss his wheelchair into the lake near his home.

Less than four months after his wife's death, Johnny Cash died at the age of 71 due to complications from diabetes, which resulted in respiratory failure, while hospitalized at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. He was interred next to his wife in Hendersonville Memory Gardens near his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

In June of 2005, his lakeside home on Caudill Drive in Hendersonville, Tennessee, went up for sale by the Cash estate. In January 2006, the house was sold to a corporation owned by Bee Gees vocalist Barry Gibb for $2.5 million. The listing agent was Cash's younger brother Tommy.


  • Father of Rosanne Cash
  • Father of Kathy Cash
  • Father of Cindy Cash
  • Father of Tara Cash
  • Father of John Carter Cash
  • Brother of Reba Hancock
  • Brother of Jack Cash (Jack died in a sawmill accident when J.R. was a child)
  • Brother of Joanne Cash-Yates
  • Brother of country singer Tommy Cash
  • Brother of Roy Cash
  • Brother of Louise Cash Garrett
  • Stepfather of Carlene Carter
  • Stepfather of Rosey Nix Adams (who was a country music singer, died on October 24, 2003. Cause of death was accidental carbon monoxide poisoning from six heaters on her bus. She was 45).
  • Son of Ray Cash (father)
  • Son of Carrie Cash (mother)
  • Grandfather to Anna Maybelle, Joseph John Cash and Jack Ezra (father John Carter Cash, Laura Cash)
  • Husband of June Carter Cash
  • Son-in-law of Mother Maybelle Carter
  • 16 grand childern
  • 3 great-grand childern

Collaborations, covers and tributes

  • During the 1950s, Cash wrote almost all of the songs he performed. As his career progressed, he performed more and more covers. On the average album, he was the writer of about a third of the songs.
  • In the years shortly before his death, Cash recorded songs by other contemporary artists, including cover versions of U2's "One", Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus", Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water", Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down", Loudon Wainwright III's "The Man Who Couldn't Cry", Ewan MacColl's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "The Mercy Seat", Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's "I See a Darkness" and the song "Thirteen" written especially for him by gothic rocker Glenn Danzig.
  • Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor admitted that he was initially "flattered" but worried that "the idea [of Cash covering "Hurt"] sounded a bit gimmicky", but when he heard the song and saw the video for the first time, Reznor said he was deeply moved and found Cash's cover beautiful and meaningful. He later said in an interview, "I just lost my girlfriend, because that song isn't mine anymore."
  • During their concert in Sofia on September 12, 2003, rock band Placebo dedicated the song "Centrefolds" to Cash. Frontman Brian Molko cited Cash as a key influence then asked the audience to sit down and began playing the song along with his bandmates.
  • Is mentioned in the Danish band Nephew's single "Superliga".
  • Often had sketches done about him on "Saturday Night Live" (1975). He was usually portrayed by the late Phil Hartman and, later, has been occasionally played by Darrell Hammond. Coincidentally, both funnymen were best known for playing another famous Arkansas native, Bill Clinton.
  • Member of the Highwaymen with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson. The foursome recorded several albums together in the 80s & 90s
  • Among "The Highwaymen", Johnny was old friends (or "blood brothers" as he put it) with Waylon Jennings. Kris Kristofferson idolized Cash and the two become close friends while in the Highwaymen. As reported in his 1997 autobiography, Cash was least close with Willie Nelson, but the two were always friendly, despite the competitive eye they kept on one another. And in 1998, Johnny and Willie swapped tunes and stories about their songs on their live VH1 Storytellers album.
  • After his good friend Carl Perkins fell from grace due to a crippling car accident and alcoholism, Cash took him on as a touring guitarist and supported Perkins by performing songs written by him.
  • In the 1970s he tried to help his close friend, legendary Nashville guitarist Hank Garland, restart his career by bringing him into the studio to record.
  • Stated in an interview with Larry King that his favorite country singer is Dwight Yoakam.
  • The band Coldplay were supposed to record a song titled 'Til Kingdom Comes' with him for their album X&Y, but Cash died before that. They added the song as a hidden track and dedicated it to Cash. In their current "Twisted Logic Tour" they are playing this song in all the venues in addition to playing a cover of Johnny Cash's famous song 'Ring of Fire'. On the two nights(6 & 7 September 2005) at Madison Square Garden, New York they also dedicated the song 'Til Kingdom Comes' to the victims of hurricane Katrina.
  • Cash's good friend Kris Kristofferson admitted that he wrote his well-known and not-entirely-flattering "Pilgrim" about Cash.
  • Mentioned in the song "Life Is a Rock But the Radio Rolled Me" by Reunion.


The Man In Black 1932 - 2003
The Man In Black 1932 - 2003

From his early days as a pioneer of rockabilly and rock and roll in the 1950s, to his decades as an international representative of country music, to his resurgence to fame as both a living legend and an alternative country icon in the 1990s, Cash has influenced countless artists and left a body of work matched only by the greatest artists of his time. Upon his death, Cash was revered and eulogized by many of the greatest popular musicians of our day, whose comments on the man and his work reflect something of the esteem in which he was held:

  • "In plain terms, Johnny was and is the North Star; you could guide your ship by him - the greatest of the greats then and now." - Bob Dylan
  • "Abraham Lincoln with a wild side." - Kris Kristofferson
  • "Johnny Cash transcends all musical boundaries, and is one of the original outlaws." - Willie Nelson
  • "[Cash] took the social consciousness of folk music, the gravity and humor of country music and the rebellion of rock 'n' roll, and told all us young guys that not only was it all right to tear up those lines and boundaries, but it was important." - Bruce Springsteen
  • "He's Americana on two legs." - Ralph Emery
  • "Johnny Cash helped show the world what happens when rural sensibilities and values mix musically with the urban environment. Over the years he demonstrated a broad musical perspective, never being afraid to record songs of social commentary." - Lyle Lovett
  • "Every man knows he is, basically, a complete sissy compared to Johnny Cash." - Bono

But he was also valued outside his genre. According to the (extensive) liner notes for Unearthed:

Cash, to his amusement (and, you suspect, delight) had been declared "The Godfather of Gangsta Rap." Bob Johnston, Johnny's old friend and legendary producer who also came by to visit, recalls "one of the rap guys telling me, 'You're talking about us being bad? I grew up on Johnny Cash singing 'I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die!'"

Cash nurtured and defended artists on the fringes of what was acceptable in country music, even while serving as the country music establishment's most visible symbol. At an all-star concert in 1999, a diverse group of artists paid him tribute, including Bob Dylan, Chris Isaak, Wyclef Jean, Norah Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and U2. Two tribute albums were released shortly before his death; Kindred Spirits contains works from established artists, while Dressed In Black contains works from many lesser-known artists.

Though he wrote over a thousand songs and released dozens of albums, his creative output was not entirely silenced by his death. A box set, titled Unearthed, was issued posthumously. It included four CDs of unreleased material recorded with Rubin, as well as a "Best of Cash on American" retrospective CD.

Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line

In recognition of his lifelong support of SOS Children's Villages, his family invited friends and fans to donate to that charity in his memory. He had a personal link with the SOS village in Diessen, at the Ammersee-Lake in Southern Germany, near where he was stationed as a GI, and also with the SOS village in Barrett Town, by Montego Bay near his holiday home in Jamaica. The Johnny Cash Memorial Fund was founded and contributions can be made.

In tribute of Cash's passing, country music superstar Gary Allan included the song Nickajack Cave (Johnny Cash's Redemption) on his 2005 album entitled Tough All Over. The song chronicles Cash hitting rock bottom, and subsequently resurrecting his life and career.


Walk the Line, an Academy Award-winning biopic about Johnny Cash's lifetime starring Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash (for which she won the 2006 Best Actress Oscar), was released in the U.S. on November 18, 2005 to considerable commercial success and great critical acclaim. In addition to its Oscar nominations, both Phoenix and Witherspoon have won various awards for their roles, including the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy and Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy, respectively. They both performed their own vocals in the film. Cash personally chose Phoenix to play him, while June personally chose Witherspoon to play her.

Ring of Fire, a musical interpretation of Cash's life, debuted on Broadway on March 12, 2006 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

Music videos

  • Folsom Prison Blues (1956)
  • Jackson (with June Carter Cash) (1970)
  • Highwaymen (with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings) (1985)
  • Silver Stallion (with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings) (1990)
  • Delia's Gone (Anton Corbijn and featuring Kate Moss) (1994)
  • He Came Back Again (with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings) (1995)
  • Rusty Cage (1996)
  • I Walk The Line (Revisited) (feat. Rodney Crowell)
  • Hurt (featuring a brief appearance by June Carter Cash, this highly regarded video was directed by Mark Romanek) (2002)
  • September When It Comes (with Rosanne Cash) (2003)

Awards and honors

  • Johnny Cash was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977.
  • Cash was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980. In his 1997 autobiography, he stated that this was his greatest professional achievement.
  • Cash was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
  • Hank Williams Sr., Jimmie Rodgers, and Cash are the only three musicians to have become full members of all three major music halls of fame: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
  • Besides Cash, Williams Sr., and Rodgers, seven other artists have all been inducted both to the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame: Elvis Presley, Floyd Cramer, the Everly Brothers, Sam Phillips, Chet Atkins, Bill Monroe, and Bob Wills. Cash's good friends Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison have both been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Cash has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6320 Hollywood Blvd.
  • In 1996, he was honored with a Kennedy Center Award and he was one of the initial recipients of the Library of Congress Living Legend medal in 2000.
  • In 2002, he was honored at the Americana Awards show with a "Spirit of Americana Free Speech Award".
  • He was voted the 31st Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Artist of all time by Rolling Stone.
  • Ranked #1 of the 40 greatest men in country music. (By CMT, 2003)
  • The video for "Hurt", from the album "The Man Comes Around" was voted greatest music video ever made according to a panel assembled by the UK newspaper "The Guardian".
  • 1968 - Album Of The Year - Country Music Awards (CMA)
  • 1969 - Single Of The Year - Country Music Awards (CMA)
  • 1969 - Male Vocalist Of The Year - Country Music Awards (CMA)
  • 1969 - Entertainer Of The Year - Country Music Awards (CMA)
  • 1969 - Album Of The Year - Country Music Awards (CMA)
  • 1985 - Single of the Year - Academy Of Country Music
  • 1989 - Living Legend - Music City News
  • 1991 - The Spoken Word - Angel Award (Cash's reading of the New Testament)
  • 2003 - Single Of The Year - Country Music Awards (CMA)
  • 2003 - Music Video Of The Year - Country Music Awards (CMA)
  • 2003 - Album Of The Year - Country Music Awards (CMA)
  • 2004 - Recorded Event Of The Year - International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA)


  • 1967 - Best Country & Western Performance, Duet, Trio Or Group, "Jackson" (with June Carter Cash)
  • 1968 - Best Album Notes, Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison
  • 1970 - Best Album Notes, Nashville Skyline
  • 1970 - Male Vocalist of the Year
  • 1970 - Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, "If I Were A Carpenter", with June Carter Cash
  • 1987 - Best Spoken Word or Non-musical Album, Interviews From the Class of '55 Recording Sessions, with Carl Perkins, Chips Moman, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison and Sam Phillips
  • 1991 - Living Legend Award
  • 1994 - Best Folk Album, American Recordings
  • 1998 - Best Country Album, Unchained
  • 1999 - Lifetime Achievement
  • 2000 - Best Country Male Vocal, "Solitary Man"
  • 2002 - Best Country Album, Timeless: Hank Williams Tribute (Cash contributed a cover of "I Dreamed About Mama Last Night")
  • 2003 - Best Country Male Vocal, "Give My Love To Rose"
  • 2003 - Best Short Form Video, "Hurt", directed by Mark Romanek
  • 2005 - Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package, "The Legend"

MTV Video Music Awards

  • Best Cinematography for "Hurt."


  • The scar to the right of his mouth was the result of a botched attempt to remove a cyst while he was serving in the Air Force in Germany.
  • His size varied considerably over time. Standing 6' 2", he weighed about 200 pounds as a young man, but then his weight plummeted to an unhealthy 140 pounds when his drug addiction was at its peak in the mid-1960s. His weight increased when he kicked his habits, and he eventually became overweight, weighing about 250 pounds by his 50s.
  • He was often at odds with his producers after he had discovered with his first producer (Sam Phillips) that his voice was better suited to a stripped-down musical style. Most famously he disagreed with Jack Clement over his sound, Clement having tried to give Cash's songs a "twangy" feel and to add strings and barbershop-quartet-style singers. His successful collaboration with Rick Rubin was in part due to Rubin seeking a minimalist sound for his songs.
  • His guitarist, Bob Wootton of The Tennessee Three, reportedly acted as Cash's stunt double anytime there was a film or TV scene that required him to ride a horse because he had a fear of horses.
  • Cash supposedly also suffered from a fear of flying, and snakes. He did travel by recreational vehicle most of the time in at least the later years of his touring schedule.
  • At one point, according to his autobiography "Cash",an oil leak on his RV burned down a large section of forest in a National Park. He remains to this day the only person ever to be sued and collected from by the US Government for starting a forest fire. When he noticed what he had done he decided (while high on amphetamines) to pretend he was fishing in a 6 inch deep stream nearby. The fire killed nearly two dozen California Condors.
  • Although he could bear it, he disliked being stereotyped as a "country" artist, feeling that his music wasn't necessarily genre-defined and noting that he often stood well outside of the Nashville mainstream (particularly towards the end of his career). Technically, his music contains elements of rock 'n' roll, folk music, bluegrass, blues, and gospel as well as country-style music. However, in his 1997 autobiography, he stated that being elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame was his single proudest achievement.
  • Cash and "American Recordings" posted a "thank you" to the Nashville country music industry in Billboard Magazine after winning the Grammy for best country record for "Unchained" in the form of the infamous photo of Johnny angrily giving the middle finger to the camera taken back in 1969 during his San Quentin prison performance. Cash did this because he was enraged by Nashville's simultaneous embrace of pop- oriented, new country artists like Garth Brooks and abandonment of him and the other aging "country" artists who had defined the genre.
  • Cash chose songs for a running series of compilations of songs that comprised the main themes of his work. The first three compilations are titled "Love," (mostly songs he wrote for June Carter Cash) "God," (a series of gospels) and "Murder" (perhaps his favorite subject, but one whose title he encouraged people "not to go out and do"). Released slightly later was "Life," mostly songs about hard work and economic struggling.
  • His songwriting went from a brief process to a very long one as he aged and his health declined. He wrote the song "Big River" while on a short boat-ride across the Hudson River in the 1950s, while he spent weeks crafting "The Man Comes Around," one of the last songs he wrote.
  • In the 1990's, Cash and his wife were spokespeople for Franklin Electronic Publishers' series of portable electronic Bibles. Franklin also sold recordings of Cash reading his favorite Bible passages. These recordings were used for a "speaking" edition of the electronic Bibles.


  • Cash, Johnny (1975). Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. ISBN 999243158X.
  • Cash, Johnny & Carr, Patrick (1997). Cash: The Autobiography. New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 0061013579.
  • Cash, Johnny & Carter Cash, June (2000). Love liner notes. New York: Sony. ASIN B00004TB8A.
  • Kaufman, Gil. (12 September 2003). Johnny Cash Dead At 71". MTV.
  • Millier, Bill. (retrieved 7 September 2004).
  • Peneny, D.K. (retrieved 7 September 2004). The History of Rock and Roll.
  • Streissguth, Michael. Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: The Making of a Masterpiece, Da Capo Press (2004). ISBN 0306813386.
  • Urbanski, Dave. The Man Comes Around: The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash. New York: Relevant Books. ISBN 0972927670.

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It uses material from the Wikipedia article - Johnny Cash