Saul Holiff was Johnny Cash’s manager for over 15 years, from the early days of his career until the 70’s. Their relationship is at the heart of My Father and The Man in Black, created, directed and narrated by Holiff’s oldest son, Jonathan Holiff.
While Holiff’s relationship was often stressful and rocky due to Cash’s early drug abuse and alcoholism which led to erratic behavior that nearly wrecked his career, it was far more successful than his relationship with his eldest son. When Jonathan was growing up, his father was often on the road with Cash. When he was home, he was either aloof or verbally abusive. At the time of the senior Hollif’s suicide in 2005, he had not spoken to his son in nearly 20 years.
After the suicide, Jonathan Holiff sought answers to the mystery of his father’s life and nature. The key to a storage unit led to a treasure trove of Cash memorabilia he never knew existed, ranging from gold records to photos to, more importantly, letters between Cash and Holiff and his father’s audio diary, recorded on tape throughout the Cash years. The tapes reveal Holiff’s most intimate feelings about Cash as well as his concerns and frustrations about his failure as a father.
Ironically, the documentary indicates that it was after Cash’s major success, marriage to June Carter, and conversion to Christianity that the relationship between Holiff and Cash deteriorated. the very things that elevated Cash from a pretty successful country singer to an American icon doomed his relationship with his long-time mentor, friend, and the man who had stood by him when he was bent on self-destruction.
Did Jonathan Holiff get the answers he sought? Probably not completely, but through the audio diary he did learn that his father wanted to be a better parent and was frustrated by his ability to do so. He learned more about his father’s hard childhood, struggle for success, and other factors that created the imperfect man he was. And in seeking these answers, the younger Holiff has created a compelling look at another imperfect man whose struggles led him to become the legendary Johnny Cash. Every Cash fan should appreciate this honest and uncompromising story, complete with vintage video clips of Cash at his best and worst.