The Trail

Johnny and June: a Country Music Love Story

2/8/2023 | By Johnny Cash Trail| Johnny Cash

The love story between Johnny and June Cash has captured the hearts of country music fans for decades. Their timeless tale is one of love, marriage, music, and redemption. 

Get ready to have your heart stolen and fall in love with one of country music's most iconic couples.

Johnny and June: Two Stars Collide

Johnny Cash was a recording artist once considered an outlaw and rebel for his antics on-stage and off.

Johnny Cash signed with Sam Phillip's Sun Records in the 1950s, where he had a string of hits, including his chart-topping hit, Folsom Prison Blues. When Cash signed on with Sun Records, he was fresh out of the Air Force and married to Viviane Liberto, with whom he had four daughters: Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy, and Tara Cash.

June Carter was country music royalty, the daughter of Maybelle Carter, and a member of the musical Carter Family. 

June Carter had been performing on stage with her family since she was ten. In the 1940s, June, her mother, and her sisters took to the road as Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. The group played around the country and even joined the Grand Ole Opry, where June met her first husband, honky-tonk singer Carl Smith. June and Carl had a daughter, Carlene.

Johnny Cash and June Carter first crossed paths in 1956, when Cash performed at the Grand Ole Opry. Carter's then-husband, Carl Smith, introduced Cash to the world on stage at the Opry, but not before introducing the rebellious young artist to his wife backstage.

It's been reported that their first interaction included Cash admitting to Carter that he always wanted to meet her, and Carter responded:

"I feel like I know you already."

Touring Troubles for Johnny and June

By the early 1960s, Johnny and June began touring together. June had divorced her first husband and had remarried Edwin Nix, a police officer and father to her second daughter, Rosie.

Time together touring was no fairytale for the country music musicians, however. 

Johnny Cash was battling addictions to drugs and alcohol, causing him to cancel or entirely miss out on shows and concerts. Cash was arrested numerous times for offenses related to drugs or alcohol, further cementing his "bad boy" rebel image.

Carter later told Rolling Stone:

"It was not a convenient time for me to fall in love with him, and it wasn't a convenient time for him to fall in love with me. …I was frightened of his way of life. I thought, I can't fall in love with this man, but it's just like a ring of fire."

These thoughts inspired Carter to pen the song Ring of Fire, which she co-wrote with Merle Kilgore during these tumultuous touring days.

Cash's marriage to Viviane was on the rocks due to his addictions and reported infidelities; she filed for divorce in 1966. 

That same year, Carter's second marriage to Edwin Nix also ended.

Two years later, Johnny Cash proposed to June Carter in front of a live audience on stage in London, Ontario. The duo married just a few weeks later, in Franklin, Kentucky, and went on to have a child together: John Carter Cash, born in 1970.

Until Death Do Us Part

Johnny credited June with helping him get sober, and the hard-partying, rebellious country crooner was transformed into a distinguished and passionate Man in Black.

"There's unconditional love there. You hear that phrase a lot, but it's real with me and her. She loves me in spite of everything, in spite of myself. She has saved my life more than once. She's always been there with her love, and it has certainly made me forget the pain for a long time, many times."

After their marriage and the birth of their son, Johnny and June continued to perform together on music stages and TV screens. The couple hosted The Johnny Cash Show on TV and shared Grammy awards. 

Cash found redemption in religion and activism, campaigning for prison reform and Native-American issues. 

The couple continued to perform and innovate over the years.

For her 65th birthday, Johnny wrote to June:

"You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You're the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. We got old and got used to each other. We think alike. We read each other's minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes we take each other for granted. But once in a while, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met."

June Carter Cash passed away in May 2003 at the age of 73.

Less than four months later, Johnny Cash joined her, dying at the age of 71.

Johnny and June's love story captured the hearts of fans near and far. The legacy of their life is a long list of songs; albums; TV shows; books; the big-screen adaptation of their love story, Walk the Line, featuring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon; and their son, John Carter Cash.

Even today, Cash's words about his relationship continue to circulate around social media; when asked about his definition of paradise, Cash replied:

"This morning with her having coffee."