Johnny Cash enjoyed a long and hugely successful career. He was beloved by fans and honored by musicians from practically every genre.
Many people wonder what his last words were. So we dove into the Internet to find out.
Let’s take a look at what we found!
The Story of Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash was born in 1932 to a family of Arkansas sharecroppers. He worked the fields as a young boy, listening to the workers’ songs. His mother was also fond of music and often sang folk songs or hymns.
When he was 12, Cash began writing his own songs, and his mother scrimped and saved until she could send him to singing lessons. After a short time, the teacher told the young Johnny to stop the lessons and stick with his unique voice. Great advice!
After a short stint in the US Air Force, Johnny returned to the states in 1954, married his first wife, Vivian, and started selling appliances in Memphis. While stationed in Germany, he was part of a band, and he continued writing and singing in his spare time after his homecoming.
During that time, he became close with two of his older brother’s friends, Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins, who were also musicians. They’d hang out playing music and singing songs at each others’ homes.
The Road to Success
Then the three heard about Sam Phillips and Sun Records, who’d produced Elvis’s first album. With hope in their hearts, they showed up unannounced at Phillips’ door, asking for an audition. He eventually relented and told them to come back with an original piece. They returned with Hey Porter and Cry, Cry, Cry, and became Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two.
Throughout his career, Johnny Cash wrote over 1000 songs and released 90+ albums. He had 13 #1 hits and won 18 Grammys and 9 Country Music Association awards. He’s also been inducted into seven different Halls of Fame. In addition, Johnny has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He and Vivian divorced in 1966, having had four daughters together. In 1968, he married June Carter and had one son with her. June and Johnny were devoted to each other until she passed away in May 2003. Cash died shortly afterward in September from autonomic neuropathy, a condition caused by diabetes.
Johnny Cash’s Best Known Songs
Released in 1956, I Walk the Line was Cash’s first #1 hit and remained on the charts for 43 weeks. It certainly launched him into living rooms and vehicles across America. The song speaks to fidelity and staying true to someone. In this case, his wife at the time, Vivian.
Who wrote Ring of Fire is a bit controversial. We won’t get into that here, but we’ll just say it’s complicated and involves Johnny’s infatuation with June while still married to Vivian. Whether Cash wrote it or not, no one debates that it’s about his feelings for June.
Johnny released his cover of Hurt, initially written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, in 2002. His version was so incredibly emotional and well done that Reznor said the hit was no longer his. Ask anyone who’s heard it, and they’ll likely say it’s the best cover made of any song.
From the Muse: Hurt is a deeply emotional and profound song that deserves its own article. Read more about The Evolution of Hurt, From NIN to Johnny Cash.
What Was Johnny Cash’s Last Song Before He Died?
The last song Johnny wrote before he passed on was Like the 309, about a train ride.
His first song, Hey Porter, focused on the excitement of a journey home. But, with this last tune, he sings of putting him in a box on the train. It’s fitting, we think, for Johnny Cash to finish with such words. His love of trains came right after June and horses.
Like the 309 was released posthumously on his American V: A Hundred Highways album in 2006. Cash’s American series came about after several cross-genre collaborations. Rick Rubins, the owner of the American Recordings label, signed Johnny on to make multiple albums containing a combination of original tracks and covers.
In all, they created six records, with American VI being released in 2010.
So, What Were Johnny Cash’s Last Words?
We’ll likely never know Johnny’s actual last words. There’s been a rumor flying around the Internet that he said, “I hear the train a comin’.” However, no one in his family or circle of friends confirmed that.
We do know that some of his last public words were about June. He was playing his final stage gig at the Carter Family Fold. After singing a few hits, he paused and said,
“The spirit of June Carter overshadows me tonight with the love she had for me and the love I have for her. We connect somewhere between here and Heaven. She came down for a short visit, I guess, from Heaven, to visit with me tonight, to give me courage and inspiration, like she always has. She’s never been one for me except courage and inspiration. I thank God for June Carter. I love her with all my heart.”
At Rest at Last
Johnny Cash had a difficult life in his younger years, but his love of music and of his wife, June, seemed to be his redemption. It’s not surprising that he passed within months of his beloved partner of 35 years. We’ll always wonder about his last words, but we’ll bet he was thinking of seeing June Carter again.