Johnny Cash's Life in Photos

The late Johnny Cash, nicknamed "The Man in Black," was an influential figure in shaping country music and was simultaneously regarded as a founding father of rock and roll. Known for his recognizable bass-baritone voice and cross-genre contributions, the singer-songwriter's legacy lives on in today's music. Take a look back at his acclaimed career in honor of his 90th birthday

Johnny Cash
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01 of 16

Johnny Cash's Early Life

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash. Getty

The legendary musician was born J. R. Cash on Feb. 26, 1932 in Kingslon, Arkansas. He was raised on farm alongside three older and three younger siblings. Cash worked in cotton fields with his family starting at age five, singing to pass the time.

Cash served in the Air Force for four years, and changed his name to John Ray because initials weren't allowed to be used for a first name. It wasn't until he signed with Sun Records in 1955 that he started going by "Johnny."

During his time in the Air Force, he bought his first guitar and started his first band called The Landsberg Barbarians before he was discharged and returned to Texas where he had trained.

02 of 16

Johnny Cash's Marriage to Vivian Liberto

Johnny Cash
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Cash met Vivian Liberto when she was 17 years old in San Antonio, Texas while he was in Air Force training. They began dating, but were apart for three years when the Air Force deployed Cash to Germany.

To cope with the long distance relationship, Cash and Liberto exchanged thousands of letters. Those letters served as the foundation of Liberto's 2007 memoir I Walked the Line, and Cash's 1956 chart-topping hit of the same name.

After Cash's discharge, the couple married and had four daughters: Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy, and Tara. But Cash's time away on the road, combined with his drug and alcohol addiction, led to Liberto filing for divorce in 1966.

03 of 16

Johnny Cash's First Recording

Johnny Cash
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Cash and Liberto moved to Memphis in 1954, where he studied to be an announcer by day and played music by night, alongside guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant (known as the Tennessee Two).

Cash auditioned a gospel arrangement for Sun Records' founder and producer Sam Phillips, but Phillips responded to Cash's rockabilly style instead and signed him. He released his first two recordings for the record company, "Hey Porter!" and "Cry! Cry! Cry!," which were met with great success.

Cash went on to become one of the best-selling musicians of all time with more than 90 million records sold worldwide.

04 of 16

Johnny Cash's Collaboration with Elvis Presley

Johnny Cash
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Elvis Presley crashed a jam session with Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis in December 1956. While Phillips was in the studio cutting new tracks at the time of the impromptu jam, he left the tapes running.

The candid collaboration was recorded and released under the title Million Dollar Quartet, and is considered a monumental moment in rock and roll history.

05 of 16

Johnny Cash's Carter Family Stint

Johnny Cash

Cash left Sun Records in 1958 to sign with Columbia Records, and released one of his biggest hits, "Don't Take Your Guns to Town," right out of the gate.

As his star was on the rise in the early 1960s, Cash went on tour with the Carter Family, consisting of famed country artist Mother Maybelle and her daughters Anita, June, and Helen. (You can see them cover "I Walk the Line" here!)

June Carter would go on to be the great love of Cash's life. The first time they met was backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956.

06 of 16

Johnny Cash's Arrests

Johnny Cash
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As Cash's career took off, his personal life suffered due to his frequent usage of amphetamines and barbiturates.

In May 1965, Cash was arrested for picking flowers on a private property in Starkville, Mississippi (inspiring the song "Starkville City Jail") and later again in October of that year for possession of narcotics in El Paso, Texas after agents found 475 Equanil tablets and 688 Dexedrine capsules stashed in his guitar case.

But despite his reputation as an outlaw (stoked by his song "Folsom Prison Blues") Cash never served any real time, staying at most overnight in prison "mostly to dry out," according to the Washington Post.

07 of 16

Johnny Cash's First Grammy Award

Johnny Cash
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Cash won his first Grammy Award alongside future wife Carter for their song "Jackson" in the best country & western performance, duet, trio, or group category in 1967. This marked the first of many Grammy honors as the singer ultimately won 13 and earned a total of 35 nominations throughout his career.

08 of 16

Johnny Cash's Marriage to June Carter

Johnny Cash
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Cash proposed to June Carter on Feb. 22, 1968 in the place where they first connected: on stage. He popped the question during a performance at the London Ice House in Ontario, Canada in front of 7,000 fans and the two wed a few days later on March 1 in Franklin, Kentucky.

Cash and Carter had one child together, son John Carter Cash, on March 3, 1970.

09 of 16

Johnny Cash's Prison Concerts

Johnny Cash
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Cash performed at Folsom State Prison in California on Jan. 13, 1968. While he played for the inmates, backed by Carter and the Tennessee Three, Columbia Records recorded and released the performance into album At Folsom Prison in May of that year.

Not only did the record reach No. 1 on the Billboard country album chart, but its lead single, "Folsom Prison Blues," became Cash's first top 40 hit since 1964.

The popularity of the prison performances didn't stop there, as Cash played and recorded a live concert at California's San Quentin State Prison the following year.

"A Boy Named Sue," off At San Quentin, nabbed the No. 1 and No. 2 spot on Billboard's country and pop charts, respectively.

10 of 16

Johnny Cash's TV Show

Johnny Cash

Cash hosted the eponymous variety television series The Johnny Cash Show on ABC from 1969 to 1971. With the Statler Brothers serving as the consistent opening act, the show featured the day's hottest musicians, including James Taylor, Ray Charles, Joni Mitchell, and Roy Orbison, during its 58-episode run.

11 of 16

Johnny Cash's Work with Bob Dylan

Johnny Cash
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One of Cash's most iconic duets was with rock icon Bob Dylan, a collaboration that spawned from a spontaneous studio jam session in which they sang covers of each other's songs.

While their "Girl From the North Country" duet appeared on Dylan's Nashville Skyline LP, and several snippets of their recording session leaked, Dylan released a three-CD package on Nov. 1, 2019 with never-before heard material from the legendary session with Cash, titled The Bootleg Series Vol. 15: Travelin' Thru, 1967–1969.

12 of 16

Johnny Cash's Nickname

Johnny Cash
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Cash established the nickname, "The Man in Black," in the early 1970s due to his regular performances donning head-to-toe black. Famed for his long black coat that hung to his knees, Cash's getup was quite the contrast from other country acts who often sported sequins and rhinestones.

He also released a song titled "Man in Black" in 1971 and wrote the 1975 autobiography, Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words.

13 of 16

Johnny Cash's White House Performance

Johnny Cash

Cash developed a friendship with former President Richard Nixon and was invited to perform at the White House for the first time on April 17, 1970. Cash performed three songs: "A Boy Named Sue," "Man in Black," and "The Ballad of Ira Hayes."

14 of 16

Johnny Cash's Acting Roles

Johnny Cash
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Though music was Cash's first passion, he dabbled in acting as well, having appeared in various television and film titles over the course of his career.

His first acting role was in the 1959 Civil War drama, titled The Rebel, followed by his film debut two years later in Five Minutes to Live.

1971's A Gunfight was one of his biggest movie gigs, where he starred alongside Kirk Douglas. However, 1973's Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus was the project he was most proud of, as he produced and financed the movie himself.

Cash made a handful of guest appearances on shows in the 1970s and 1980s such as Columbo and Little House on the Prairie.

While Cash and Carter dabbled in the film industry themselves, their lives were dramatized in the 2005 biopic, Walk the Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

15 of 16

Johnny Cash's Country Music Hall of Fame Induction

Johnny Cash

Cash was the youngest Country Music Hall of Fame inductee (48 years old at the time) to receive the honor in 1980. He was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, making him the only person to hold both honors until Presley was inducted.

In 1998, Cash's "I Walk the Line and "Ring of Fire" were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award the following year.

Cash was later inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2010.

16 of 16

Johnny Cash's Death

Johnny Cash At Harlem Meer
Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Cash suffered from an incurable degenerative disease and often found himself in and out of hospitals as he grew older. In addition, he faced diabetes complications and as a result, passed away at age 71 on Sept. 12, 2003 in Nashville.

Cash's passing occurred four months after Carter, his wife of 35 years, died on May 15, 2003.

The couple's continues to influence generation after generation of musicians today.

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