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Born February 26, 1932, Johnny Cash (also known as the "Man in Black") was an influential country musician, best known in the 1950s and '60s for his hit songs I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues and Ring of Fire, and he became known in his later years for his stripped down cover versions of modern popular songs, such as Hurt.
Fueled by his own rocky personal life and spiritual path, much of Cash's music, especially that of his later career, echoed themes of sorrow, moral tribulation and redemption. Thus, 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.
Cash was particularly famous for his prison concerts, especially the historic performances in Folsom and San Quentin prisons in the late '60s. The former ended up being one of the fastest selling records of all time.
Cash and June Carter Cash were married soon after Cash proposed to her during a concert in London, Ontario in 1968. The couple recorded several duets, including Jackson and It Ain't Me Babe. June Carter had co-written Ring of Fire for Cash before their marriage.
His career was rejuvenated in the 1990s, leading to unexpected popularity and iconic status among a younger audience not traditionally interested in country music. In 1993, he sang the vocal on the track 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. 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.
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.
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 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.
A posthumous five CD box set, Unearthed, was released late in 2003, including three CDs of outtakes from his American Recordings series, one CD of the "best of" the series, and My Mother's Hymn Book, a CD of hymns and gospel songs with simple acoustic guitar accompaniment. My Mother's Hymn Book was later rereleased as a single disc.
Walk the Line, an Academy Award-winning biopic about Johnny Cash's lifetime, was released in the U.S. on November 18, 2005 to considerable commercial success and great critical acclaim. It starred Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash (for which he won the 2006 Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical) and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter Cash (for which she won the 2006 Oscar for Best Actress). Both Phoenix and Witherspoon have won various other 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.
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.
Less than four months after his wife's death, Johnny Cash died at the age of 71 on September 12, 2003, 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 2006 some sessions Johnny had been recording all by himself with just a guitar were found in a box marked 'Personal File' in his home studio, the House of Cash; these were released as a double-CD.
Later in 2006, the final installment of the American series was released posthumously: American V: A Hundred Highways. Again produced by Rick Rubin, the album gathered together the final recordings made by Cash in the few months before his death, including the last song he ever wrote Like the 309. The song went to Number 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, a sign of his continuing popularity.
Cash had four daughters by his first wife, Rosanne Cash, Kathleen, Cindy and Tara. With June he had a son, John Carter Cash.
Johnny Cash's genre-jumping style and mold breaking performances led him to be honored as one of only three artists (along with Hank Williams Sr. and the "Singing Brakeman" Jimmie Rodgers) to be inducted to three of the major music halls of fame: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Cash was also honored by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
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