The combination of love and music is a beautiful thing, and the music industry has seen many long-lasting love stories. Some notable examples include John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, and Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, whose relationships have produced both on and off-stage magic. However, there is one country music romance that stands out above the rest – the love story of Johnny Cash and June Carter.
Their love story endured the test of time, addiction, and the ups and downs of fame. Despite facing many personal and industry-related challenges, they remained devoted to each other, and their journey together has been immortalized through their hit songs, a critically acclaimed movie, and the celebration of their enduring love.
In July 1956, Johnny Cash, who had just gained recognition for his crossover hit ‘I Walk the Line,’ made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry stage. It was here that he met June Carter, whom he had admired since his childhood. The meeting took place backstage, and the two felt an instant connection. Carter, who had recently toured with Elvis Presley, felt a sense of familiarity with Cash, and their chemistry was palpable, captivating audiences with their magnetic attraction.
In her notes on Cash’s 2000 box set, ‘Love, God, Murder,’ Carter reminisced about their first encounter.
“I can’t remember anything else we talked about except his eyes. Those black eyes that shone like agates… He had a command of his performance that I had never before. Just a guitar and a bass and a gentle kind of presence that made not only me but whole audiences become his followers.”
During the 1960s, June Carter frequently performed with Johnny Cash on his tours as a backup singer, duet partner, and entertainer. Despite their growing attraction to each other, they were both married to other people and were cautious not to act on their feelings. They kept the beginning of their relationship mostly under wraps, with Carter acknowledging that it wasn’t an ideal time for them to develop romantic feelings for each other.
According to a 2000 Rolling Stone interview with Carter, she stated:
“I never talked much about how I fell in love with John. 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.’”
During this period, Cash was battling serious addiction issues, which were straining his marriage and professional life. His wife, suspecting an affair between Cash and Carter, filed for divorce in 1966. Despite the turmoil, Cash and Carter’s bond continued to strengthen. In a grand gesture, Cash proposed to Carter in front of a concert audience in 1968, and she said yes. They went on to have a son, John Carter Cash and built a blended family with their children from previous marriages.
Their professional and personal lives became deeply intertwined as they released duets like ‘Jackson’ ‘The Loving Gift,’ ‘If I Were a Carpenter,’ ‘No Need to Worry,’ and ‘Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man.’ They also starred in and hosted the Johnny Cash Show, a television music variety series, from 1969 to 1971.
‘Unconditional’ was the word Cash often used to describe the love he and Carter shared. Through the trials and tribulations of addiction and fame, they were each other’s constant support. June was a steady presence in Cash’s life, helping him through his struggles with addiction. However, Carter had her own issues; she was a compulsive shopper and battled with prescription pills. Still, their love was unwavering. Johnny often spoke about how her love made him forget the pain and brought light into his darkest moments.
Cash’s words on their unconditional love in a 2000 interview with Rolling Stone:
“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. When it gets dark, and everybody’s gone home, and the lights are turned off, it’s just me and her.”
During the early 1960s, Cash was struggling with addiction problems, which were taking a toll on his marriage and career. In 1966, his wife filed for divorce, suspecting that he was having an affair with Carter. Despite the upheaval, Cash and Carter’s relationship continued to flourish, culminating in Cash’s public proposal to her during a concert in 1968. They subsequently had a son, John Carter Cash, and created a blended family with their children from previous marriages. Their personal and professional lives became deeply intertwined, with numerous duets and performances together, including hosting their own television show.
Although Cash often referred to their love as “unconditional,” they both had their own personal struggles. While June helped Cash battle his addiction, she also had her own issues with compulsive shopping and prescription pills. Despite this, their love for each other remained steadfast, and Cash spoke of how her love helped him forget his pain and brought light into his darkest moments, as he revealed in a 2000 interview with Rolling Stone.
June Carter and Johnny Cash’s connection endured until the end of their lives. Carter passed away in May 2003 from heart surgery complications, and Cash died just a few months later in September. His last live performance was a touching tribute to his beloved wife, expressing how their bond transcended beyond the earthly realm.