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Johnny Cash, who rose from the Depression-era cotton fields of rural Arkansas to leave a deep impression on the American music scene, died on this day in history, September 12, 2003. He was 71 years old.
“Cash was original: a rebellious, unrelentingly entertaining and imposing presence,” Rolling Stone wrote in a tribute to the artist in 2016.
Artists around the world mourned the loss.
“His influence spread over many generations of different people. I loved him as a singer and writer,” Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger reportedly said shortly after Cash’s death, calling his passing “a great loss to the music community.” .
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Cash suffered from numerous health problems in later life, severely limiting his ability to perform live in the 1990s.
He died of complications from diabetes at Nashville Baptist Hospital, according to official records. His health deteriorated from years on the road and battling addiction.
“The problems were seen by some, including Kris Kristofferson, as a reward for the years of abuse Cash had subjected his body to with drugs and alcohol throughout his life,” the music site Spinditty wrote.
But music fans and family members have long speculated that Cash’s actual cause of death was a broken heart.
His 35-year-old wife, June Carter Cash, died four months before him after complications from heart surgery.
Cash, confined to a wheelchair, sat next to his wife’s bed while she was in a coma on a ventilator, author Steve Turner wrote in the 2004 book, “The Man Called Cash: The Life, Love and Faith of an American Legend.”
Cash spoke to his wife, sang songs and read her psalms.
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“He begged her not to leave him,” Turner wrote, noting that Cash’s health suddenly deteriorated after her death.
Their legendary and rambunctious love affair began in 1950 when star-struck teen JR Cash met the performer of the celebrated Carter country music family backstage after a performance at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
“He saw June and he fell in love. He loved her, the bee’s knees,” Lisa Errington, assistant manager of museum and tours for Ryman Auditorium, recently told TBEN News Digital in an auditorium interview.
Their story was brought to the silver screen in the 2005 Hollywood hit “Walk the Line” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.
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Cash’s hit career spanned nearly half a century and eerily easily transitioned into multiple genres while conquering a shockingly diverse array of fan bases.
Cash charted a whopping 134 singles on the Billboard charts, including at least two hits a year for 38 consecutive years.
He died as a member of the Rock & Roll, Country Music, Nashville Songwriters, and Memphis Music Halls of Fame.
In 2001, Cash was honored with the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest award for artistic excellence.
Even today, 19 years after his death, it’s not uncommon to hear Cash’s music seeping out of both the rural honky tonks of Tennessee and the hipster cocktail bars of Brooklyn.
According to the Johnny Cash Museum in Nashville, Cash charted a whopping 134 singles on the Billboard charts, including at least two hits a year for 38 consecutive years.
His first, “Cry, Cry, Cry” was released in 1955; his latest, a haunting remake of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” stunned the music world in 2002, the year before he died.
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Cash’s haunting version of the song was accompanied by a powerful video that showed the rough, old and sickly singer against the backdrop of his Tennessee ranch and youthful career.
It proved to be an intensely emotional coda for an incredible career, achieving both critical and commercial success in the final months of Cash’s life.
“Hurt” won Country Music Association Video of the Year and Single of the Year, American Music Awards Song of the Year, and the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Video.
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“Wow, (I felt like) I just lost my girlfriend because that song isn’t mine anymore,” songwriter Trent Reznor said upon seeing the video of Cash’s version of “Hurt.”