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Man in Black

September 12, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JOHNNY CASH SINGING: I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down living hopeless in the hungry side of town…

JEFFREY BROWN: Johnny Cash was the “man in black,” a singer and songwriter who became a country music superstar and an American icon.

SPOKESMAN: Album of the year, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison.

JEFFREY BROWN: In a career spanning four decades, he would win 11 Grammy awards, sell more than 50 million albums, and influence several generations of musicians. He is today the only person besides Elvis Presley to be inducted into both the country music and rock and roll halls of fame.

Born in Arkansas during the Depression, Cash learned to play the guitar while in the Air Force in the early 1950s. His first major hit, recorded in 1956 on the legendary Sun records label, was “I Walk the Line.”

JOHNNY CASH SINGING: I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I keep my eyes wide open all the time. . I keep the ends out for the tie that binds, because you’re mine, I walk the line. 

JEFFREY BROWN: In his signature deep gravelly voice, he sang of working people and the downtrodden. Often of, and to, prisoners. ( Applause )

Some of his greatest mainstream success came in the late 1960s after Cash married his second wife, June Carter, of the famous country music family. They had met initially backstage at the Grand Old Opry.

JOHNNY CASH: I was 24 years old, and I introduced myself. And she had been touring with Elvis Presley and Elvis had talked about me, and she asked me if I’d get her some of my records. So I did it, I got the records right to her first thing next Saturday night. And we’ve been talking sweetly ever since.

JEFFREY BROWN: June wrote hit songs for her husband, including “Jackson” and “Ring of Fire,” and they toured the country together.

SINGING: I’m going to Jackson, look out Jackson Town. . I’m going down to Jackson. 

JEFFREY BROWN: June, who died this May after 35 years of marriage, also helped her husband in his longtime fight against depression and drug addiction. Throughout his career, Cash recorded with many stars, including Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. He continued to record albums in the ’80s and ’90s, and just last month he made new headlines and reached a new generation of fans winning an MTV award for his music video “Hurt.”

JOHNNY CASH SINGING: What have I become? My sweetest friend — everyone I know, know goes away in the end .

JEFFREY BROWN: In recent years, cash had battled a disorder of the nervous system. Johnny Cash died early this morning at a Nashville hospital from complications of diabetes. He was 71 years old.

JOHNNY CASH SINGING: I won’t let you down.

JEFFREY BROWN: One of his signature songs was “Folsom Prison Blues.” Here, from several periods of his career, is a clip from the documentary “Johnny Cash: the Anthology.”

JOHNNY CASH SINGING: I bet there’s rich folks eatin’ in a fancy dining car they’re probably drinkin’ coffee and smokin’ big cigars but I know I had it comin’ — I know I can’t be free but those people keep a-movin’ and that’s what tortures me –well, if they freed me from this prison if that railroad train was mine, I bet I’d move out over a little farther down the line far from Folsom Prison that’s where I want to stay and I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away. ( Applause )