Johnny Cash faced a lifetime of hardships and tribulations and it all started in the small town of Kingsland, Arkansas on February 26, 1932. Born John R. Cash to a family of sharecroppers that included his parents, Ray and Carrie Cash, and his 6 brothers and sisters. Life on the farm was not easy nor was sharecropping was not a lucrative business, and as a result the family was poor, forcing the children to help their parents farm their crops. The hard work was a blessing in disguise as this is where John would find his love of music. Carrie would sing in the fields, often folk songs and hymns but he was also influenced by the hired farmers and the workers who sang on the railroad yards nearby his home.
This life of living in these conditions continued in Dyess Colony, Arkansas where his family moved when John was only 3 years old and he stayed there until the time he graduated from high school in 1950. Not only was John forced to work, he was also quoted as saying in later years that there were times that he feared that he would die from starvation as a young boy. After graduation, John left for Pontiac, Michigan to look for work in an automotive plant, and although he was successful in his search, John only spent a small duration of time in Michigan due to his enlistment in the U.S. Air Force.
Stationed in Germany, John bought his very first guitar, used for $4, and started his first band, the Lansberg Barbarians. After serving 4 years in the service, John returned to the states and married his girlfriend Vivian Liberto whom he had met only one month prior to being sent to Germany. Vivian kept over 10,000 pages of letters that the two wrote back and forth to one another during his enlistment which she arranged in her later book “I Walked the Line”. Another milestone that occurred in 1954 was that John and Vivian moved to Memphis, Tennessee where John would audition for the famous Sam Phillips of Sun Records, changing his life forever. In the spring of 1955, John walked into Sun Records with The Tennessee Three where they recorded Johnny Cash’s first release, “Hey Porter”. By 1958 Cash moved his family to Encino, CA after signing with Columbia records, finally settling in Ventura throughout the 1960s.
The first recording was all that was needed for Johnny’s career to take off. Throughout the 1950s Johnny was able to release hit after hit, as well as playing 200 shows per year . By the mid 1960s he was playing 300 shows per year but this hectic schedule created numerous issues for Cash, including a neglected marriage and an increasing addiction to narcotics.
The drug addiction that took its hold on Cash really seemed to peak in 1965 and 1966 when a series of events started affecting not only Cash’s music but his personal life as well. Contrary to popular belief, Cash never passed out on stage from taking excessive amounts of drugs, but in 1965 he did smash the floor lights with his microphone at the Grand Ole Opry. This event was caused by a drug induced rage that resulted in Cash’s banishment from the venue, one of the few artists who have ever been banned from the Opry.
The same year on October 4, Cash was arrested in El Paso, Texas on misdemeanor charges of possession of illegal drugs that landed him in jail for 1 night. The federal narcotics agents found 668 Dexadrine tablets and 475 Equanil tablets in his luggage, a combination of “uppers” and “downers”.
The next year he fared no better when Vivian filed for divorce in the summer, separating from Johnny after 12 years together and 4 daughters. The divorce was granted late in 1967, the year in which Cash was finally able to beat his drug addiction with the help of his singing partner, June Carter. While the two had known each other since the 1950s, it wasn’t until 1968 that the two married. June and Johnny’s marriage lasted until June died in May of 2003 after post-surgery complications from a heart operation. Only 4 months later, Johnny Cash met his final resting place on September 12, 2003 after associated complication from diabetes.
While the Man in Black may have had turbulent times, he was still one of the most influential voices of the 20th century. Throughout his career, Cash had 30 singles to chart the top 100 list with 14 of those in the number 1 position. In his life he has not only left his mark in the music world but also as an actor in movies, as well as his own t.v. program, and as an author, writing his own autobiography “Cash” in 1997.