More on Country Music legend Johnny Cash.
I always appreciated that Mr. Cash was very open about his battles with his demons. It added to his humanity.
As his career was taking off in the late 1950s, Cash started drinking heavily and became addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates. For a brief time, he shared an apartment in Nashville with Waylon Jennings, who was heavily addicted to amphetamines. Cash used the uppers to stay awake during tours. Friends joked about his “nervousness” and erratic behavior, many ignoring the warning signs of his worsening drug addiction. In a behind-the-scenes look at The Johnny Cash Show, Cash claims to have “tried every drug there was to try.”
Although in many ways spiraling out of control, Cash’s frenetic creativity was still delivering hits. His rendition of “Ring of Fire” was a crossover hit, reaching No. 1 on the country charts and entering the Top 20 on the pop charts. The song was written by June Carter and Merle Kilgore. The song was originally performed by June’s sister, but the signature mariachi-style horn arrangement was provided by Cash, who said that it had come to him in a dream.
In June 1965, his truck caught fire due to an overheated wheel bearing, triggering a forest fire that burnt several hundred acres in Los Padres National Forest in California. When the judge asked Cash why he did it, Cash said, “I didn’t do it, my truck did, and it’s dead, so you can’t question it.”[page needed] The fire destroyed 508 acres (206 ha), burning the foliage off three mountains and killing 49 of the refuge’s 53 endangered condors. Cash was unrepentant: “I don’t care about your damn yellow buzzards.” The federal government sued him and was awarded $125,172 ($923127 in 2013 dollars). Cash eventually settled the case and paid $82,001. He said he was the only person ever sued by the government for starting a forest fire.[page needed]
Although Cash carefully cultivated a romantic outlaw image, he never served a prison sentence. Despite landing in jail seven times for misdemeanors, each stay lasted only a single night. His most infamous run-in with the law occurred while on tour in 1965, when he was arrested October 4 by a narcotics squad in El Paso, TX. The officers suspected that he was smuggling heroin from Mexico, but it was 688 Dexedrine capsules and 475 Equanil tablets that the singer had hidden inside his guitar case. Because they were prescription drugs rather than illegal narcotics, he received a suspended sentence.
Cash had also been arrested on May 11, 1965, in Starkville, Mississippi, for trespassing late at night onto private property to pick flowers. (This incident gave the spark for the song “Starkville City Jail”, which he spoke about on his live At San Quentin prison album.)
In the mid 1960s, Cash released a number of concept albums, including Sings the Ballads of the True West (1965), an experimental double record mixing authentic frontier songs with Cash’s spoken narration, and Bitter Tears (1964), with songs highlighting the plight of the Native Americans. His drug addiction was at its worst at this point, and his destructive behavior led to a divorce from his first wife and canceled performances.
In 1967, Cash’s duet with June Carter, “Jackson”, won a Grammy Award.
Johnny Cash’s final arrest was in Walker County, GA where he was taken in after being involved in a car accident while carrying a bag of prescription pills. Cash attempted to bribe a local deputy, who turned the money down, and then spent the night in a LaFayette, Georgia jail. The singer was released after a long talk with Sheriff Ralph Jones, who warned him of his dangerous behavior and wasted potential. Johnny credited that experience for saving his life, and he later came back to LaFayette to play a benefit concert that attracted 12,000 people (the city population was less than 9,000 at the time) and raised $75,000 for the high school.
Cash curtailed his use of drugs for several years in 1968, after a spiritual epiphany in the Nickajack Cave, when he attempted to commit suicide while under the heavy influence of drugs. He descended deeper into the cave, trying to lose himself and “just die”, when he passed out on the floor. He reported to be exhausted and feeling at the end of his rope when he felt God’s presence in his heart and managed to struggle out of the cave (despite the exhaustion) by following a faint light and slight breeze. To him, it was his own rebirth. June, Maybelle, and Ezra Carter moved into Cash’s mansion for a month to help him conquer his addiction. Cash proposed onstage to June at a concert at the London Gardens in London, ON, CA on February 22, 1968; the couple married a week later (on March 1) in Franklin, KY. June had agreed to marry Cash after he had “cleaned up”. He rediscovered his Christian faith, taking an “altar call” in Evangel Temple, a small church in the Nashville area, pastored by Rev. Jimmie Rodgers Snow, son of country music legend Hank Snow.
According to longtime friend Marshall Grant, Cash’s 1968 rebirth experience did not result in his completely stopping use of amphetamines. However, in 1970, Cash ended all drug use for a period of seven years. Grant claims that the birth of Cash’s son, John Carter Cash, inspired Cash to end his dependence. Cash began using amphetamines again in 1977. By 1983, he was once again addicted, and entered the Betty Ford Clinic in Rancho Mirage, CA for rehabilitation. Cash managed to stay off drugs for several years, but by 1989, he was dependent again and entered Nashville’s Cumberland Heights Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center. In 1992, he entered the Loma Linda Behavioural Medicine Centre in Loma Linda, California for his final rehabilitation (several months later, his son followed him into this facility for treatment).