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Cash, Johnny 1932-2003

CASH, Johnny 1932-2003


See index for CA sketch: Born February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, AR; died of complications from diabetes September 12, 2003, in Nashville, TN. Entertainer and author. A legend in his own time, Cash—fondly known as "The Man in Black"—was a Grammy-winning country singer famous for such songs as "Ring of Fire," "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Walk the Line," and "A Boy Named Sue." A hard early life and an upbringing by parents who loved religious music had a profound influence on Cash. When he was still a child, he had to help his family financially by picking cotton with his brothers and sisters during the Great Depression, but the hard times were eased by his mother's singing and guitar playing. After finishing high school, he found work in factories making cars and margarine, and during the early 1950s he enlisted in the Air Force as a radio operator in Germany. When he returned to America in 1954, Cash worked as a door-to-door salesman while attending classes in radio broadcasting at the Keegan School of Broadcasting. Music, however, was always on his mind, and in 1955 he auditioned as a gospel singer at Sun Records, where Elvis Presley got his start. However, Sam Phillips, the producer there, was not looking for a gospel musician, so Cash tried again with a more commercial-sounding song called "Hey Porter." Phillips signed him and put his name on his first record as "Johnny" Cash. It was a name that Cash, whose parents called him J. R., did not much like, but it stuck. Soon, he was recording a string of fourteen top-ten hits that included "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line," and in 1958 he left Sun to sign with Columbia Records. The late 1950s and early 1960s were a tough time for Cash, however; his albums did less well and, with the exception of 1963's "Ring of Fire," he had few hits. Cash became hooked on amphetamines and started to earn a reputation for bad behavior as he wrecked motel rooms and, in 1966, was arrested and jailed briefly. His marriage to his first wife ended in divorce in 1967, but Cash found a savior in June Carter. Carter, who had cowritten "Ring of Fire" with Merle Kilgore, became good friends with Cash, and her support of him soon blossomed into love. They married in 1968, and Cash later credited his second wife with saving him from drugs and turning his life around. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw Cash's return to success with songs such as "Jackson" in 1967 and "If I Were a Carpenter" in 1970. One of his greatest achievements came in 1968 with his live concert recorded on the album Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (1968). Cash also became a television star, hosting his own TV show from 1969 to 1971 and starring in such television films as A Gunfight (1985) and Stagecoach (1986); he also made guest appearances on programs such as Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and numerous television specials. Though Cash's music career had faded into the background of American pop culture during the 1980s, he saw another revival in the 1990s with the help of rock music producer Rick Rubin. In 1994, Cash released American Recordings to critical acclaim. His later songs, such as "Rusty Cage" (1997), "Solitary Man" (2000), and "Give My Love to Rose" (2002) were also well received. His video of the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt" has widely been regarded as a final masterpiece in a triumphant career that included thirteen gold records, twelve Grammy Awards, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and, in 1999, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Cash recorded his thoughts about his life in two autobiographies: Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words (1975) and Cash: The Autobiography (1997); he was also the author of the novel Man in White (1986).



Contemporary Musicians, Volume 17, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.

Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 19, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, second edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James (Detroit, MI), 2000.


Chicago Tribune, September 13, 2003, Section 1, pp. 1, 6.

Los Angeles Times, September 13, 2003, pp. A1, A16-17.

New York Times, September 13, 2003, pp. A1, A12.

Times (London, England), September 13, 2003.

Washington Post, September 13, 2003, pp. A1, A10.

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