More of Country Legend Johnny Cash.
From left to right Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, who formed the country music supergroup, The Highwaymen
In 1980, Cash became the Country Music Hall of Fame’s youngest living inductee at age 48, but during the 1980s his records failed to make a major impact on the country charts, although he continued to tour successfully. In the mid 1980s, he recorded and toured with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson as The Highwaymen, making three hit albums which were released beginning with the originally titled “Highwaymen” in 1985, followed by “Highwaymen 2” in 1990, and concluding with “Highwaymen – The Road Goes on forever” in 1995. Of the group’s four members, Cash was the only one not a Texan.
During that period, Cash appeared in a number of television films. In 1981, he starred in The Pride of Jesse Hallam, winning fine reviews for a film that called attention to adult illiteracy. In the same year, Cash appeared as a “very special guest star” in an episode of the Muppet Show. In 1983, he appeared as a heroic sheriff in Murder in Coweta County, based on a real-life Georgia murder case, which co-starred Andy Griffith as his nemesis. Cash had tried for years to make the film, for which he won acclaim.
Cash relapsed into addiction after being administered painkillers for a serious abdominal injury in 1983 caused by an unusual incident in which he was kicked and wounded by an ostrich he kept on his farm.
At a hospital visit in 1988, this time to watch over Waylon Jennings (who was recovering from a heart attack), Jennings suggested that Cash have himself checked into the hospital for his own heart condition. Doctors recommended preventive heart surgery, and Cash underwent double bypass surgery in the same hospital. Both recovered, although Cash refused to use any prescription painkillers, fearing a relapse into dependency. Cash later claimed that during his operation, he had what is called a “near death experience”. He said he had visions of Heaven that were so beautiful that he was angry when he woke up alive.
Cash’s recording career and his general relationship with the Nashville establishment were at an all-time low in the 1980s. He realized that his record label of nearly 30 years, Columbia, was growing indifferent to him and was not properly marketing him (he was “invisible” during that time, as he said in his autobiography). Cash recorded an intentionally awful song to protest, a self-parody. “Chicken in Black” was about Cash’s brain being transplanted into a chicken. Ironically, the song turned out to be a larger commercial success than any of his other recent material. Nevertheless, he was hoping to kill the relationship with the label before they did, and it was not long after “Chicken in Black” that Columbia and Cash parted ways.
In 1986, Cash returned to Sun Studios in Memphis to team up with Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins to create the album Class of ’55. Also in 1986, Cash published his only novel, Man in White, a book about Saul and his conversion to become the Apostle Paul. He also recorded Johnny Cash Reads The Complete New Testament in 1990.
Cash, a troubled but devout Christian,[page needed] has been characterized as a “lens through which to view American contradictions and challenges.”[d] A Biblical scholar, he penned a Christian novel titled Man in White; in its introduction Cash writes about a reporter who, interested in Cash’s religious beliefs, questions whether the book is written from a Baptist, Catholic, or Jewish perspective. Cash denies an answer to the book’s view and his own, and replies, “I’m a Christian. Don’t put me in another box.”[page needed] and he made a spoken word recording of the entire New King James Version of the New Testament. Even so, Cash declared that he was “the biggest sinner of them all”, and viewed himself overall as a complicated and contradictory man.[e] Accordingly,[f] Cash is said to have “contained multitudes,” and has been deemed “the philosopher-prince of American country music”.
From his early days as a pioneer of rockabilly and rock and roll in the 1950s, to his decades as an international representative of country music, to his resurgence to fame in the 1990s as a living legend and an alternative country icon, Cash influenced countless artists and left a large body of work. Upon his death, Cash was revered by the greatest popular musicians of his time. His rebellious image and often anti-authoritarian stance influenced punk rock.
Among Cash’s children, his daughter Rosanne Cash (by first wife Vivian Liberto) and his son John Carter Cash (by June Carter Cash) are notable country-music musicians in their own right.
Cash nurtured and defended artists on the fringes of what was acceptable in country music even while serving as the country music establishment’s most visible symbol. At an all-star concert which aired in 1999 on TNT, a diverse group of artists paid him tribute, including Bob Dylan, Chris Isaak, Wyclef Jean, Norah Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Dom DeLuise and U2. Cash himself appeared at the end and performed for the first time in more than a year. Two tribute albums were released shortly before his death; Kindred Spirits contains works from established artists, while Dressed in Black contains works from many lesser-known artists.
In total, he wrote over 1,000 songs and released dozens of albums. A box set titled Unearthed was issued posthumously. It included four CDs of unreleased material recorded with Rubin as well as a Best of Cash on American retrospective CD.
In recognition of his lifelong support of SOS Children’s Villages, his family invited friends and fans to donate to the Johnny Cash Memorial Fund in his memory. He had a personal link with the SOS village in Diessen, at the Ammersee Lake in Southern Germany, near where he was stationed as a G.I, and with the SOS village in Barrett Town, by Montego Bay, near his holiday home in Jamaica.
In 1999, Cash received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Cash No. 31 on their “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list.
The main street in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Highway 31E, is known as “Johnny Cash Parkway”; the Johnny Cash Museum is located in the town.
On November 2–4, 2007, the Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Festival was held in Starkville, MS. Starkville, where Cash was arrested over 40 years earlier and held overnight at the city jail on May 11, 1965, inspired Cash to write the song “Starkville City Jail”. The festival, where he was offered a symbolic posthumous pardon, honored Cash’s life and music, and was expected to become an annual event.
JC Unit One, Johnny Cash’s private tour bus from 1980 until 2003, was put on exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum in 2007. The Cleveland, Ohio museum offers public tours of the bus on a seasonal basis (it is stored during the winter months and not exhibited during those times).