One of country music's most iconic voices, Johnny Cash is one of the best-selling artists of all time, selling over 90 million records worldwide.
Born J.R. Cash, the musician got his start in the country music scene in Memphis, Tennessee, going on to build a successful career in which he crossed genre lines of country, pop, gospel and rock and roll and earned himself entry into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. He gained a reputation as an outlaw and leaves an enduring legacy with career songs like "I Walk the Line," "Ring of Fire" and "Folsom Prison Blues."
Read on to learn more about the Man in Black.
He was afraid of both flying and snakes
His outlaw persona may have made it seem like Cash wasn't scared of much, but the musician actually had a massive fear of flying, despite his time in the Air Force that sent him overseas. He also had a lifetime fear of snakes.
He was an ordained minister
Deeply religious, Cash was a Christian, though his beliefs were at times at odds with his outlaw image. He re-examined his faith after his marriage to June Carter and during the 1970s, he received a degree in theology after over two years of studying, encouraged by the Reverend Billy Graham. Cash became a minister, presiding at his daughter Karen's wedding.
His older brother Jack was killed after he was unintentionally pulled into a table saw
When Cash was 12, his brother Jack was accidentally pulled into a table saw when he was cutting wood at the mill where he worked. The saw injured Jack's midsection, and the teen crawled across a dirty floor for help, further aggravating the injury. Jack remained alive for a week after the accident but ultimately had no chance of survival and died from his injuries. The accident had a profound impact on Cash's life and he is reported to have often asked himself, "What would Jack do?" rather than "What would Jesus do?"
He was in the Air Force for four years
Cash enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1950 and served for four years, during which he was assigned to the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile of the U.S. Air Force Security Service at Landsberg, Germany, where he created his first band, "The Landsberg Barbarians."
During his time in the Air Force, Cash worked as a Morse code operator intercepting Soviet Army transmissions and was the first American to learn of the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Cash was honorably discharged in July 1954.
He was sued by the U.S. government
In 1965, Cash was sued by the government for starting a forest fire, when his truck and camper overheated while Cash was high. The fire burned 508 acres, burned the foliage off three mountains and killed 44 of the 53 endangered condors living in Los Padres National Forest in California. Although it cost him more than $125,000, Cash said he didn't care about the "damn yellow buzzards."
He first met June Carter backstage at the Grand Ole Opry
Cash married June Carter in 1968, but the couple actually met backstage at the Grand Ole Opry when Cash was making his Opry debut in 1956. He was married to his first wife, Vivian Liberto, at the time, and Carter was married to Carl Smith. She has said that she wrote "Ring of Fire," which was originally recorded by her sister Anita Carter and later by Cash, about her feelings for Cash when they first met.
"I can’t remember anything else we talked about, except his eyes," Carter wrote in the liner notes of Cash’s 2000 box set, Love, God, Murder. "Those black eyes that shone like agates… He had a command of his performance that I had never before. Just a guitar and a bass and a gentle kind of presence that made not only me, but whole audiences become his followers."
After Liberto filed for divorce from Cash, he proposed to Carter while on stage in front of 7000 people, right after they sang their duet "Jackson" together.
He was arrested seven times
Throughout his career, Cash frequently performed in prisons and recorded two live albums during those performances — Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison in 1968 and Johnny Cash at San Quentin in 1969. He himself was arrested seven times total for charges including reckless driving, drug use and public drunkenness, though he never spent more than a few nights in jail. One of his arrests was for picking flowers in Starkville, Mississippi, when he drunkenly took flowers from someone’s yard at 2 a.m. At the Starkville jail, he kicked the door so hard he broke his toe and later recorded a song about the experience.
He died only four months after June
Cash died in September 2003 in Nashville of complications from diabetes, just four months after Carter died in May 2003 in Nashville from complications following heart-valve replacement surgery. The couple had remained married until their deaths and are survived by their son John Carter Cash. Cash is also father to four daughters with Liberto and Carter had two daughters from her two previous marriages. Carter, Cash and Carter's daughter Rosie Nix Adams are all buried at the Hendersonville Memory Gardens near their home in Henderesonville, Tennessee.
He was severely injured by his pet ostrich
In 1981, Cash was once attacked by his pet ostrich, Waldo, and the incident left him with five broken ribs and internal bleeding. The attack happened on the grounds of the exotic animal park Cash had established behind the House of Cash offices in Tennessee. In his book Cash: The Autobiograph, the musician wrote that Waldo was "not happy" to see him one day and that he swiped at the animal with a stick to show him who was boss.
"I missed," Cash wrote. "He wasn’t there. He was in the air, and a split second later he was on his way down again, with that big toe of his, larger than my size-thirteen shoe, extended toward my stomach. He made contact — I’m sure there was never any question he wouldn’t — and frankly, I got off lightly. All he did was break my two lower ribs and rip my stomach open down to my belt, If the belt hadn’t been good and strong, with a solid belt buckle, he’d have spilled my guts exactly the way he meant to. As it was, he knocked me over onto my back and I broke three more ribs on a rock — but I had sense enough to keep swinging the stick, so he didn’t get to finish me. I scored a good hit on one of his legs, and he ran off."
Photo Credit: Getty / ABC Photo Archives