I Walked the Line is a chronicle of first love, long-kept secrets, betrayal, forgiveness, and the truth--told at last by Johnny Cash's first wife, the mother of his four daughters. It is a book that had the full support of Johnny Cash, who insisted it was time for their story to be told, despite any painful revelations that might come to light as a result. Many myths and contradictions regarding the life of Johnny and his family have been perpetuated for decades in film and literature. Vivian exposes previously untold stories involving Johnny's drug addiction, his fraught family life, and their divorce in 1968, as well as the truth behind the writing of two of Johnny's most famous songs, I Walk the Line and Ring of Fire. Supplemented by a never-before-published archive of love letters and family photos, I Walked the Line offers a deeper look at one of the most sig- nificant artists in music history. Here, fans and readers can experience the extraordinary account of love and heartbreak between Johnny and Vivian, and come to understand Vivian's dignified silence over the years. Through this elegant, revealing, and powerful memoir, Vivian Cash's voice is finally heard.
A little-known prequel to the late great Man in Black's famous life is adoringly revealed by his first wife and mother of his four daughters. Before there was June, there was Vivian, the 17-year-old girl from San Antonio, Tex., who met Cash in the summer of 1951 as he was headed overseas in the army. Three years of ardent letter writing sustained them--indeed, a good part of this book consists of Johnny's aching letters from 1951 to 1954, revealing his attempts to keep himself away from drinking and loose women, while begging her to wait for him and pray together. Finally wedded, the couple set out for Memphis, where Cash worked as a door-to-door salesman. After Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two began to travel, Vivian, pregnant from year to year, moved with him constantly, sewed his performance clothes and scribbled lyrics for I Walk the Line as he drove in the car. By 1961, as Vivian Cash tells it, when Johnny was drinking and popping pills heavily, June Carter joined Johnny's tour and tenaciously pursued him. Johnny and Vivian divorced in 1966. Vivian, who died in 2005, has told her story candidly to TV producer Sharpsteen, disclosing myriad tender details and an affecting ability to forgive. (Sept.)
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September 04, 2007
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Excerpt from I Walked the Line by Vivian Cash
It was September 11, 2003, and although a beautiful day, there was an uneasiness in the air. My daughter Cindy had just arrived in town for a visit along with her husband, Eddie, and she felt it too -- an unmistakable sense of something amiss, something dreadful about to happen. So later that night when the phone rang at one thirty a.m., after we had all gone to bed, my heart froze. Phone calls in the middle of the night never bring good news.
And then a bone-chilling scream came from down the hall. Cindy was the first to hear the news: Johnny was dead.
For the rest of the night, none of us slept. Cindy was inconsolable, devastated, virtually drowning in grief after the call. She had spent the last three months with Johnny at his home, caring for him, doting on him, and she had just left for a quick visit to come see me. She was choked in grief now that she wasn't there when he passed. Helpless to do much else, I simply hugged her.
I knew firsthand the pain of losing a parent. I lost both of mine years ago. The coming weeks and months, even years, would be tough, not only for her but also for our other three daughters Johnny and I had together: Rosanne, Kathy, and Tara. Our poor babies would never be the same. I knew that much.
To the world, Johnny was revered as the Man in Black. But to us he was simply Daddy. To the girls, he was their world. And to me he is and will always be my wonderful, caring, protective husband and the father of my children. In disbelief I paced the floor.
Johnny was supposed to have been here in California, recording yet another record. He was to have visited New York for the MTV Music Awards on his way out, where he was excited to have been nominated in six categories. We were all excited. He and the producers of the show secretly planned for him to walk out onto the stage unassisted: Only recently his heath had been improving, and he was walking again. But as fate would have it, what was thought to be a troubling case of heartburn sent him to the hospital instead. That's where he stayed for two weeks before being released. Then this sudden disastrous turn for the worse. And now our lives were spinning out of control.
Within hours, Johnny's death was the top story on all the cable news channels and morning shows. The media frenzy had begun. CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, every channel I turned to, were all talking about our family.
The music world is mourning the death this morning of one of America's most influential performers, Johnny Cash...
Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, died this morning in a Nashville hospital at the age of seventy-one...
One of the greatest voices in American music is silent today...
It was surreal to hear them talking about Johnny in the past tense. Only eight weeks earlier, I had been with him in his home in Hendersonville, just north of Nashville, and we had enjoyed a wonderful visit. We sat and laughed about old times. We reminisced. We hugged and cried. We joked and teased each other. Looking back, that afternoon visit was a precious gift from God. My trip to Nashville had been a very last-minute decision, and I wasn't certain I would even have the chance to see Johnny. But I'm so thankful -- very, very thankful -- that God let us see each other one last time.
Ironically, it was during that visit that we discussed this book and I told him of my decision to write it. To be honest, I was a little nervous in telling him. I wasn't sure how he would react to me finally deciding to tell my story. Not only have I gone out of my way for years to not talk about our years together, but the real truth about our marriage and divorce has never been told. Now that I had decided to tell the truth, I wondered how he would feel about that.
My decision to write this book was a difficult one for me. Early on, I became aware that some of the things I planned on revealing would be upsetting to Johnny's second wife, June. I was also aware that some of her irritation might inevitably be targeted at Johnny. And with all of his medical problems at the time, I cringed at the possibility of imposing any additional misery on him.
Two months earlier, however, something happened that none of us expected: June passed away. It was a devastating blow to Johnny and to our girls, who had known June for many years by that time. However, along with the understandable sadness at her passing, I experienced a sense of liberation that I would be freer to say the things I have to say -- and Johnny would be freer to tell the truth too. The full story of our lives, the unvarnished truth, could now be told more easily without hesitancy. Would Johnny agree? I wouldn't know until I spoke with him.
During our visit, I settled in on a sofa by the fireplace in Johnny's bedroom and we chatted. It was so good to see him. He was enjoying improvement in his health in recent weeks. He had gone fishing for the first time in years. He had gone swimming. And he was walking again. On July 11 he took twenty-five steps unassisted. On July 12 he took seventy steps. It made me happy to hear of his continued improvement. And despite the fact that he was still obviously grieving the loss of June, I was thrilled to hear him say, "I'm happy."