Behind the Death of Johnny Cash

Known for his deep, rich vocals, tall stature, and timeless, genre-spanning catalog of songs, Johnny Cash left an incomparable mark on music during his 71 years of life. The Arkansas native evolved from a rising rockabilly radio star to an icon with a sound all his own in just a few years. 

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Like many stars of the time, Cash went through an ever-shifting series of highs and lows throughout his career. By the start of the 1990s, he was trying to find his footing in the music industry amidst a lull in commercial success. He pursued many passion projects, including collaborative projects with a range of artists, but something shifted when he forged a creative partnership with producer Rick Rubin.

A New Era

In 1994, he released American Recordings, a collection of stripped-down cover songs curated by Rubin. The project was a massive success, connecting with fans and critics and sparking the start of a new era for Cash.

American Recordings

The tail-end of the 1990s also provided a new set of challenges for the aging talent. Cash endured several medical issues, including a severe bout with pneumonia and problems stemming from diabetes. A diagnosis of autonomic neuropathy, a disease that affects the nervous system, led him to take an extended hiatus from touring.

Still, Cash kept creating. He released five albums under the American Recordings series and earned a Grammy Award for his reimagined version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.” That moment of achievement was quickly followed by immense sadness. On May 15, 2003, Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash, died at 73.

The Final Chapter

The loss of June weighed heavily on Johnny. Not long before her death, June asked her husband and creative partner to continue making music after she passed on. He kept his promise and crafted more than four dozen songs in the weeks following her death.

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On September 12, 2003, Johnny Cash died from died of complications from diabetes. He was 71 years old. Four months after her passing, he was laid to rest next to June in a cemetery near the lakeside house they shared in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

In the months and years following his death, three more installments of his American Recordings series were released to widespread critical acclaim. In 2014, a collection of shelved recordings from the 1980s entitled Out Among the Stars was released, marking what is likely to be Cash’s final studio album and fourth posthumous record. 

Although 20 years have passed since Cash’s death, his heartfelt and poetic songwriting style continues to influence artists across genres. 

Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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