The love of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash: “It is like I’m in a ring of fire”

Magda Origjanska
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One of the most inspiring love stories in the world of entertainment is the enduring romance of country musicians Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Their 30-year-long relationship was built between two people who were not only lovers and spouses but also candid comrades and professional partners who created and performed music they were passionate about.

Cash and Carter met in 1956 backstage at the Grand Ole Opry, a weekly country music show in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time, Cash was married to his first wife, Vivian Liberto, with whom he had three children (the eldest is country artist Rosanne Cash), while Carter had had two marriages and two children. Nevertheless, the attraction between them was undeniable. Recalling their first encounter, Cash stated that he knew from the very beginning that they were meant to be together and that he was so infatuated by June that he just let her “steal his heart.”

Johnny Cash and June Carter

Carter’s own experience of meeting Johnny Cash adds a more dramatic tone: “Oh my Lord! I think I’m falling in love with Johnny Cash, and this is the most painful thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. It is like I’m in a ring of fire, and I’m never coming out. I’m going down, down to the bottom of this thing. It’s going to kill me, because I would never have the nerve to tell him, nor do I want to tell him, nor do I want anybody to even know I’ve got these feelings.” She expressed her emotions by writing the country song “Ring of Fire, which was later recorded in Press On, the second solo album of this legendary entertainer.

During their several years of dating and working together, Cash proposed numerous times before she finally said “yes” 13 years later in 1968. She accepted his proposal at a live performance in London, in front of 7,000 fans. They married in Franklin, Kentucky the same year and in 1970 their only child, John Carter Cash, was born.

June Carter Cash playing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, United States. Author:Larry D. Moore. CC BY-SA 3.0

It is commonly known that Johnny suffered from serious problems with drug and alcohol addictions, hindering his professional and personal life. June was his greatest support, attempting to keep him off amphetamines by even taking them and flushing them down the toilet.

She remained with him during his stints in rehab and throughout his years of recovery. Nothing was more powerful than the love she felt for him. Cash felt the same way and stated in an interview, “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 has certainly been there with her love, and it has certainly made me forget the pain for a long time, many times. When it gets dark and everybody’s gone home and the lights are turned off, it’s just me and her.”

Johnny Cash and June Carter

The couple worked together, raised children, created music, and toured for almost 35 years, nourishing their love until May 15, 2003, when June Carter Cash died of heart failure. Four months later, her beloved Johnny passed away as well.

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At his last performance, soon after her death, he couldn’t hide his grief, so he addressed the audience with these words, “The spirit of June Carter overshadows me tonight with the love she had for me and the love I have for her. We connect somewhere between here and heaven. She came down for a short visit, I guess, from heaven to visit me tonight to give me courage and inspiration like she always has.”