Vivian Cash — First Wife of “I Walk the Line” Johnny Cash


Y’all know I’m a country girl. I grew up on a farm. I’m a Native Texan. I like cowboys, big hats, big trucks and country music. :) Country music is in my blood. My Twitter pal @GrooveSDC says his family are ‘black red necks’, I tweeted to him, I guess I’m a black red neck too. :) I loved listening to Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson.

Until yesterday, I never knew, Vivian Cash, first wife of Johnny Cash existed. What a gorgeous woman. And those 4 beautiful daughters belong to Johnny and Vivian. You learn something new everyday. Talk about shocked!


I used to say I like every kind of music except Country. That was until my good friend Steve Abel made me sit down and listen to ‘Johnny Cash at San Quentin’, recorded live at the infamous prison. I was an instant fan.

So when “Walk the Line”, the Johnny Cash biopic, was released in 2005 I was eager to see it. I thought it was a great movie, with some brilliant scenes, like the one where Ma and Pa Carter see off Cash’s dealer with shotguns as he quits cold turkey. They seemed to epitomise the best of White Southern Christian Decency, in contrast to the usual treatment we see of Southern hypocrisy, malice and racist cruelty.

The romance between Johnny Cash and June Carter was of course the main thread of the movie. It winds around his protracted wooing of her and ends with a caption celebrating their 35 year partnership on and off stage after she finally agrees to marry him. His first wife Vivian is portrayed as a woman just never suited to be his wife and who drove him away with her bitterness, jealousy and resentment. I remember idly wondering what she was really like, and whether this was a fair portrayal of her character, as the story moved back to his great love for June.

The Cash sisters. Rosanne is in the red and Kathy is in the dark blue.

Vivian Cash & daughter Roseann Cash

Watching the movie for a second time the other day I was again swept up in what a nasty, bitter woman Vivian was, even as another part of my mind again questioned the representation. In the garden with my wife the following day, we began deconstructing the movie as we worked. As we talked through different elements of the plot, I began to feel more and more uneasy. Later I decided to google Vivian Cash. I found a review of her book ‘I Walked the Line’, written after the film came out. Not surprisingly it gave a very different story to the film, suggesting that their marriage had been very happy until June stole John away. What WAS surprising, though, was when I looked at photos of Vivian. Turns out that she was a black woman.

You’d never know from reading any of the articles about her.

You’d certainly never know from watching the movie, where she is played by Ginnifer Goodwin.

In fact the only thing I found in my admittedly brief search that referenced her ethnicity was a newspaper headline from when he was busted for drugs that says “ARREST EXPOSES JOHNNY CASH’S NEGRO WIFE”. Presumably exposes her for the sin of being black in the USA.

Interestingly, in contrast to the newspaper article from the time, the film shows him leaving court alone and coming home to her censorious displeasure. It is shortly after this arrest that the chronology of the film shows them separating.

I’d noticed before that there are almost no black people in the film. Two shoe shiners are the sum total are far as I remember. I imagine the director, James Mangold, justifies this by saying that there are no black characters who are important to the story. That is if you don’t include his first wife.

Suddenly the treatment of Vivian makes complete sense. In the world of American Country music, of course the black woman is the villain of the story – even when her husband leaves her and her four daughters for another woman. June and John are considered one of the most iconic couples in country music history, and no black woman is going to undermine that narrative. Her character has to be destroyed. But even that is not enough. Her very identity is robbed from her, made invisible by whitewash.

They say that black is not a colour, it is the absence of light. That certainly seems to be true in Hollywood.

About SouthernGirl2

A Native Texan who adores baby kittens, loves horses, rodeos, pomegranates, & collect Eagles. Enjoys politics, games shows, & dancing to all types of music. Loves discussing and learning about different cultures. A Phi Theta Kappa lifetime member with a passion for Social & Civil Justice.
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48 Responses to Vivian Cash — First Wife of “I Walk the Line” Johnny Cash

  1. The author treats the idea that Vivian was a mulatto, though her family denied it.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Just finished listening to audiobook the story of Johnny Cash the life by Robert Hilburn, Johnny did love Vivian, it’s an amazing but true story of the facts, its 21 hours listening time. You should read or listen to it, you would find it very interesting.

    Enjoy listening to the true story of Johnny Cash its black and white truths, it hides no darkness of his life. Also it will settle any argument over the race of Vivian she was an amazing woman who suffered a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Like

  4. Johnny & Vivian Cash with three of their daughters

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Like

  6. Beautiful family

    1957: Country singer/songwriter Johnny Cash holds a guitar as his wife Vivian Liberto and daughters, Rosanne Cash and Kathy Cash look on in 1957. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Cindy, Johnny, Kathy and Rosanne Cash sitting around at the children’s grandparent’s home in San Antonio.


  8. Photos courtesy of Scribner. Vivian [Liberto] and Johnny Cash married in San Antonio, Texas, her hometown, on Aug. 7, 1954, a little more than a month after his return from Air Force duty in Europe.”


  9. Angela says:

    This article was an amazing read..shead alot of light….on Hollywood… I guess if not for their Children.. Vivien.. Would still not exist…
    Thank you for sheading light…


  10. Like

  11. CD says:

    Vivian was Italian, not black. Google it.


    • LOL! Like I need google to tell me when someone is black or not? You’re funny.


    • When Hannibal invaded Italy with his elephants over the mountain, what you believe to be dark Italians become that way due to his men taking Italians wives and those the string of Black Italians of African descent and as you know, your pure race people consider them non-white. He was decent enough to marry her. Most of the others just raped captured African slaves. I guess the same was done when Africans conquered European people. Truth OK?


  12. bwa ha ha ha ha There is no such thing as a race card. Racism is very real and you’ve shown yours to everyone. You just outted yourself. Sad pitiful bigot. Why are you angry about someone else’ marriage? It’s none of your damn business. Let yourself out Missy and don’t let the door knob hit you in the ass on your way out.


  13. Crystal says:

    Vivian Liberto Cash was italian, dutch and english her father said. Her father had to send proof of ancestry to a newspaper sonewhere down south. Shes not black.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Alright now! Don’t fuck with Johnny Cash’s kids. They’re not having it.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Amy says:

    The only justification I can imagine to the actual filmmaker is this: already they are trying to make a beautiful love story out of a man who left his wife and 4 children to be with another woman. So they had to pretend June was trying to resist, rather than being the aggressor, and that the first wife wasn’t very sympathetic. Now imagine this same movie where Johnny Cash leaves a black woman for June Carter. I am guessing there would be MOSTLY a national uproar and not people writing songs about wanting to be Johnny and June. Not saying it’s right, and I am very bummed out because I DID sympathize for the wife character even before I knew the full story, but. An accurate movie would have been TERRIBLE. Just the same, I wonder why they felt it was ok to go ahead with the movie using these completely fabricated pieces. I think I might have scrapped the project if I knew the whole story.


  16. Johnny Cash with first wife: Vivian Cash & family


  17. Like

  18. Liked by 1 person

  19. 😍😍😍😍

    Johnny Cash addressed his love letters to Vivian Cash as …

    “My Darling Vivian” or “My Baby”


  20. Johnny Cash’s first wife tells of romance, heartbreak

    The tours also drew women, and when Vivian asked Johnny if he was ever tempted, he told her not to worry — “I walk the line for you.”



    Drugs and June Carter, Vivian Cash writes in her new book, ruined her marriage to music icon Johnny Cash — and Carter, others told her, was the more relentless of the two threats.

    Vivian was the one cast out of the spotlight, left behind to raise her and Johnny’s four daughters in Ventura as he and June Carter became the king and queen of country music in almost storybook romance style. Vivian became fodder only for, as she writes, people curious about her past with her famous ex-husband and those of the Nashville mind-set who wanted her “written out of Johnny’s history altogether.”

    Now Vivian’s writing back, so to speak, in “I Walked The Line: My Life with Johnny,” released this fall. By turns sad and uplifting, the book is a sobering antidote to our celebrity-obsessed culture and speaks to the oft-ignored fallout from fame.

    In it, Vivian confesses that she never stopped loving Johnny and wistfully ruminates on what might have been had drugs and June not entered their lives. The heart and setting for much of this is Johnny and Vivian’s stint living in a hillside home above Nye Road in Casitas Springs from 1961 to 1967, a period containing some of the most colorful and worst of the legendary Man in Black’s bad-boy behavior — the pills, the booze, the binges, the arrests and an infamous June 1965 forest fire he set above Fillmore.

    It wasn’t long after they moved to Casitas Springs, Vivian writes in the book, “that everything, and I mean everything, started to fall apart.” While Johnny toured (sometimes with June) and his fame grew, Vivian stayed home.

    “She’d say, If I only could have traveled with him instead of being here raising four kids, things would have been different,'” recalled longtime friend Alice Smith of Ventura. “She said that a lot.”

    Vivian remarried (Ventura Police Officer Dick Distin, who still lives in town) in 1968 and lived out her days in Ventura, an active, admired and social member of the community. All four daughters she had with Cash — Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara — graduated from St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura.

    Vivian died in May 2005 at age 71, shortly after finishing the manuscript on her days with Johnny.

    In some ways, her book is a retort to the Oscar-winning 2005 film “Walk the Line,” with Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny and Reese Witherspoon as June depicted in a dreamy love story.

    The film portrayed Johnny as the aggressive pursuer and June as the reluctant one, but Vivian paints June as the chaser — most pointedly in the book when she writes about an angry backstage confrontation (in an unnamed place) in which June said to her, “Vivian, he will be mine.”

    “She wanted people to know June went after Johnny,” said Ann Sharpsteen, who co-authored the book with Vivian. “That was where most of her pain and anger rested all these years.”

    Vivian’s daughter, Cindy Cash, largely agrees with her mother.

    “Once June came along, she relentlessly — well, she wanted Dad and she was going to get him,” said Cindy, who lives in Ventura. “And she did. She made herself very available, to where he pursued her back.”



  22. WELL. WELL.

    Raymond Alvin Wildman Liberto. Ray was the son of Irene Robinson and Thomas Liberto. Ray was the brother of Vivian Liberto Cash


  23. rikyrah says:


    I looked at that picture and said..

    Johnny Cash’s first wife was BLACK??

    I mean, this was pre-Loving.

    I, um… was obvious to me..but, I thought I knew Cash’s life story, so I thought, of course, I’d know about a BLACK WIFE.


    Liked by 3 people

  24. Liza says:

    I’m pretty sure that “Johnny Cash at San Quentin” is the first album of his that I heard. My friend’s brother had just come home from his first tour of duty in Vietnam and, of course, he bought a stereo. He would let us play his records when he wasn’t home and that is the only one I remember. I used to play “Darling Companion” over and over.

    Later, when Rosanne Cash started recording, I did know about Vivian but not anything about her ancestry. I just noticed that RC looks exactly like her mother.

    Well, if she’s passing, okay then. Whatever.


  25. I cried laughing at the comments in one article about her. White people were screaming…”She’s Italian”. I was hollaring and said OK THEN!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Liza says:

      This would have been the 1950s, so I’m not surprised. A lot of folks were passing.

      When I met my first husband’s father, I said to my husband, “I didn’t know your dad is biracial”. Answer, “Yeah, we don’t talk about it”. His dad was born in Alabama in the 1920’s, left the Confederacy during WWII and never went back, passed his whole life.

      Liked by 2 people

  26. Liked by 1 person

  27. Liked by 2 people

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