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Rags to Riches: Johnny Cash

There are many famous people who call Arkansas their home state. Arkansas has produced millionaires, poets, businessmen and even a president. One former Arkansas resident who has inspired many lives and touched many with his music is the legendary Johnny Cash, the original man in black.

Johnny Cash was born on February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Arkansas, just across the river from life-long friend Carl

Perkins. He was born into a family of sharecroppers. Cash’s family was very poor, as most sharecroppers were, and Cash claims that he almost died of starvation as a small child. Because the family was not wealthy, they gave their son what little free entertainment that could and Cash was raised on the hillbilly sounds native to his hometown. Cash performed songs by the age of twelve on radio KLCN out of Blytheville, Arkansas.

In 1955 he signed with Sun Records and started his recording career. “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line,” “Guess Things Happen That Way,” and other hits quickly established Cash as a major player on both the pop and country charts and by the mid-sixties, he was one of the most popular artists in the country. Unfortunately, his career success did not lead to happiness. He was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Substance abuse took over life so much that in 1965, a violent outburst in Nashville got him banned from the Grande Old Opry. His addictions also caused the breakup of his marriage to Vivian Libreto.

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However, this low point in his life did not last for long. In the late 1960s Cash discovered God and changed his life. He also met his future wife, June Carter, who offered him support and inspiration. In 1969 he won two Grammy awards for Johnny Cash Live at Folsom Prison and his albums were outselling the Beatles. Cash also his own tv variety program on ABC that ran for 3 years.

Cash is still in the hearts and minds of people today. In 1991 he was presented with a Grammy Legend Award. In 1992 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (he was already a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame). He lent his voice to U2 in 1993 on their album Zooropa. His 1994 album, American Recordings attracted the attention of the MTV generation and earned him a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. He also got an offer to appear at Lollapolloza.

Even with all the success and everything that he had overcome to get to where he is, Cash’s tribulations weren’t over. In 1997, Cash disclosed that he is suffering from Shy-Drager Syndrome. This is a progressive nervous disorder characterized by muscular tremors, stiffness, and weakness. After the 1997 announcement, he canceled several concerts and a national publicity tour in support of his book, Cash: The Autobiography, to return home to Tennessee to stabilize his health.

In 1999, TNT premiered An All-Star Tribute to Johnny Cash. The television special was the highest rated and most watched concert premiere in the network’s history.

Cash passed away on September 12, 2003, from complications of diabetes, less than four months after his wife’s death. His life and relationship with his wife were chronicled in the movie Walk The Line in 2005.

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