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The Queen is dead

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Sad news:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Singer-songwriter June Carter Cash was born into country music royalty and went on to marry Johnny Cash after writing about her forbidden passion for the Nashville hellraiser in the classic song “Ring of Fire.”

June, who died in Nashville on Thursday aged 73, rescued her husband from a destructive methamphetamine habit and turned him into a born-again Christian following their marriage in 1968. While some critics carped that June blunted Johnny’s edge, the union was successful.

With Johnny waylaid for the past few years by illness, June devoted herself to caring for the “Man in Black,” now 71.

Her recipe for a successful marriage?

“I’ve been walking just far enough behind John for him to think that he was way out in front,” she told Reuters in a 1999 interview. “Women, if they’ve got any sense, will do that. They walk just far enough behind. That’s where they stay.”

A brown-haired beauty with a sharp wit and wonderful way of telling stories, she was the last surviving daughter of Maybelle Carter, who formed one-third of the Carter Family.

Superstars by every definition, the Carter Family launched the modern era of country music in 1927 by selling millions of records, including folk standards “The Wildwood Flower” and “Wabash Cannonball” from their Appalachian base.

And it makes me even sadder to realize that, given his own failing health and the statistical rule that long-married men usually only outlive their wives by about a year on average, Johnny won’t be far behind her.

I once had the extreme good fortune to share a stage with both Johnny Cash and June Carter, as well as Waylon Jennings, his wife Jessi Colter, and Robert Duvall. Yes, all at once. It was simply overwhelming. Since people generally don’t believe that when I tell ’em, I usually don’t bring it up very often. But here’s proof:

That’s me behind Waylon, and the Telecaster he’s playing is mine – was mine, I don’t have it anymore. June is in front, singing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” as I recollect. The whole thing took place at a wrap party for a Tom Cruise movie that was filmed here in part. Nobody had any idea that those folks would be showing up; it was a surprise for Cruise put together in secret by Duvall.

The thing I remember most from that night is how completely dumbfounded and awestruck we all were when Johnny and the rest of them walked into the room. Cash came up to the stage to compliment us on a song we had just played, and I invited them all up to play a few. They ended up onstage with us for a half hour or so, and the thing is that we were just so completely overwhelmed to be up there with them that we couldn’t play a lick. I mean, we were awful. Every bit of music we ever knew went immediately and irretrievably out of our heads, and I swear to this day that Johnny was at least eight feet tall. We were all as giddy as schoolkids for days.

And they were all just as kind, sweet, and nice as they could be, Duvall and Cruise included, but June was maybe the nicest of all of them. She seemed to understand how completely bedazzled we were by them and acted almost motherly towards us. She was as country as they come, too – she reminded me of my own mother in that, really.

She lived a long, full, and remarkable life, and as the woman who tamed one of the wildest of them all, she will always be remembered right beside the Man in Black, as she deserves to be. Not, as she says, walking behind, but as she truly was: at his side, one of the strong supports that helped to prop him up when he needed it, and lifted him higher than he would have been without her. I know that Johnny’s heart is broken by her departure, even as he must be gladdened by the memory of the years he had with her; and I wish him strength, the same kind of strength she gave him in his darkest hours. May she rest easy.

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About Mike Hendrix

  • The Theory

    awesome experience to get to play with the King and Queen themselves… I haven’t even had a chance to see Cash live… looks like I won’t ever be able to.

    June Carter Cash will be missed.


  • Eric Olsen

    Mike, when you drop the personal experince bombs, they are bunker-busters. Thanks so much for sharing this, a terrific tribute that I hope Johnny himself gets around to reading. Can’t beat the pic!