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Country Legend Johnny Cash Dies - 2003-09-12

Complications from diabetes have claimed the life of the legendary country music singer and songwriter known as "The Man In Black." Johnny Cash, died in a Nashville hospital September 12. Cash, who had been suffering from a variety of ailments in recent years, was 71. Johnny Cash earned a reputation as one of country music's "outlaws." His many songs spoke of romantic love, religious faith and social struggle, and his style often crossed over into blues, rock and pop. VOA's Doug Levine has more on the life and career of country superstar Johnny Cash.

Johnny Cash's career covered parts of six decades, and included numerous best-selling recordings, 11 Grammys and numerous Country Music Association Awards, movies and an autobiography.

He was born in Kingsland, Arkansas, on February 26, 1932, the fourth of seven children. His earliest influences ranged from blues and gospel to traditional country.

In 1955, he formed Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Two with bassist Marshall Grant and guitarist Luther Perkins. Following several auditions, the trio was signed to Sun Records in Memphis, where they recorded their first hit single, Cry! Cry! Cry! A year later, they recorded the Number One hit, I Walk The Line, a brooding love song that exposed Cash to both country and pop audiences around the world.

Cash once said that music should never be encumbered with labels.

"I never have really believed in putting the music into bags and categories. It never did really work," he said. "They called me 'rockabilly' in the '50s when we were all still doing our thing in Memphis, kind of breaking away from traditional country. But as it turned back (to country), then traditional country was my bag. My definition of country right now, I wouldn't really know. But the backbone of the country music industry has been the simple three-chord love song."

Years of demanding concert tours, television shows and recording work took their toll on Johnny Cash's personal life. But, with the help of his second wife, singer June Carter Cash, who died this past May, Cash overcame an addiction to prescription drugs that almost claimed his life. June wrote Johnny's 1963 hit, Ring Of Fire.

In the late-1960s, Cash incorporated folk and blues into his country repertoire, and performed songs about the plight of Native Americans and prison inmates. His 1968 album Live At Folsom Prison, recorded before an audience of inmates, was one of his most- successful. It included his biggest pop hit, A Boy Named Sue.

In addition to acting in movies, he wrote an autobiography, titled Man In Black. Johnny Cash explained that the title refers to a nickname he earned when he first arrived in Nashville.

"Like I said, I was a rockabilly [country-rock artist] in Memphis. There was Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison and I," he said. "And we were called those 'Memphis longhaired rockabillies.' And when I came to Nashville, they were wearing the rhinestones and spangled suits and the cowboy boots that were almost as flashy as the ones I've got on now. And I said, 'I don't want to dress that way.' So my band and I just wore black shirts."

Johnny Cash was honored with the Living Legends Grammy Award in 1990. He had been a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame since 1980, and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1992, becoming the first performer to be inducted into both Halls.

Cash's career also included studio work with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson in The Highwaymen, as well as John Fogerty, The Judds and U2. His last album, American IV-The Man Comes Around, was released in November 2002. Hurt a song from that album was recently nominated for six MTV Video Music Awards, winning in the Best Cinematography category.

Country legend Johnny Cash, dead at age 71.