The Health Decline and Death of Johnny Cash

Updated on November 14, 2016
PaulGoodman67 profile image

Paul promoted, played and sang in many music bands during his teenage years and twenties. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.

Cash was an icon of 20th century music.  His life was full of tribulations, however, both emotional and physical.  A combination of heartbreak and physical conditions would eventually lead to his death.
Cash was an icon of 20th century music. His life was full of tribulations, however, both emotional and physical. A combination of heartbreak and physical conditions would eventually lead to his death. | Source

Multiple Health Problems

The death of Johnny Cash was a terrible event for all country fans and for music lovers generally. The singer had suffered multiple serious health problems in the years leading up to his demise, however, so his passing wasn't a big surprise to those close to him.

By the end of the 1980s, he had already undergone operations on his knees, heart, and jaw, and would be plagued with bad health right up to when he died.

The problems were seen as payback by some, including Kris Kristofferson, for the years of abuse that Cash had subjected his body to with drugs and alcohol at various stages throughout his life.

As well as causing him a lot of physical pain, these ailments also created major problems for his life as a musician. It was automatic neuropathy, a condition associated with diabetics, that stopped him from touring (the condition was correctly diagnosed in 1997, after his symptoms had previously been wrongly interpreted as Shy-Drager syndrome, a neurodegenerative disease that resembles Parkinson’s Disease).

With touring gone, Cash focused on recording, as well as spending more time with his wife, June at their Jamaican holiday home, where the sunshine seemed to ease the physical pain caused by his ailments.

Hurt

Then things deteriorated further, when Cash was struck down with pneumonia in 1998, causing him to suffer a period of hospitalization and worse still, lung damage. But Cash continued to record.

Then, in 2002, the album American IV: The Man Comes Around was released. This album was noticeably darker and more serious in its tone than with some of his earlier recordings and suggested that Cash was attempting to come to terms his mortality.

The cover of the Nine Inch Nails song, “Hurt” featured on this album. Written by Trent Reznor about a bad relationship break up, Cash took the song and effectively made his own and, along with the powerful video for Hurt that Mark Romanek made to accompany the song, it is seen by many as Cash’s epitaph.

The Death of June Carter

Just when Johnny Cash seemed to have reached a new creative peak and was enjoying the afterglow created by the success of “Hurt”, he was struck by a terrible shock when his beloved wife, June Carter died suddenly in May 2003. She went into hospital for a heart operation and never came out again.

It was a serious blow to him and some believe it was a factor in his own death happening so quickly afterwards. Although June was aged 73 when she died, most people had expected her to outlive Cash, given that his multiple health problems seemed more life threatening.

Cash had relied on June for most of his later life as a source of stability and support. She had supported him through illnesses and addictions and been his constant companion for 35 years. Now she was gone.

June had insisted that Cash kept working in the event of her death, so that is what he did. The week after June died, he went into the studio and recorded 5 new songs. He told Rick Rubin, his producer, that he wanted to be kept occupied every day. He even gave a couple of impromptu performances for family and friends.

At his last performance, which took place at the Carter Family Fold on the 5th July, 2003, Cash read out a prepared statement before he performed the song, Ring of Fire, a hit that June had co-written with Merle Kilgore in 1963 about falling in love with Cash.

“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 with me tonight to give me courage and inspiration like she always has.”

Johnny and June during healthier times.  Their turbulent romance which began when they were both married to others is the stuff of legend.  Some people believe that it was the death of June that prompted the early death of a "broken hearted" Johnny.
Johnny and June during healthier times. Their turbulent romance which began when they were both married to others is the stuff of legend. Some people believe that it was the death of June that prompted the early death of a "broken hearted" Johnny. | Source

The Death of Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash died from complications resulting from his diabetes at 2am C.T. on the 12th September, 2003, less than four months after June died, while he was in Baptist Hospital, Nashville.

He was buried alongside June in Hendersonville memory Gardens, not far from where he’d lived in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

The death of Johnny Cash brought about many tributes to the singer from across the music business and included a number of postumous awards.

The Cash death also brought a tribute from the artist Gary Allan, who wrote a track called, "Nickajack Cave (Johnny Cash's Redemption)" about the deceased singer.

The grave of Johnny Cash in in Hendersonville Memory Gardens near his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee.  He was buried next to his wife, June, who died several months before him.  Some people believe that his broken heart brought on his death.
The grave of Johnny Cash in in Hendersonville Memory Gardens near his home in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He was buried next to his wife, June, who died several months before him. Some people believe that his broken heart brought on his death. | Source

© 2011 Paul Goodman

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    • profile image

      Teddy 

      4 months ago

      Sure wish he was still here today. Loved his songs

    • profile image

      Uncle John 

      10 months ago

      Don't you mean "Autonomic Neuropathy" and not "Automatic Neuropathy"....His death was drugs and alcohol, not merely a complication of diabetes

    • Jean Bakula profile image

      Jean Bakula 

      11 months ago from New Jersey

      I don't like "new country", but am familiar with "old country" from my parents. Johnny Cash was truly was one of the greats. Kris Kristofferson wouldn't have had a career without JC, he landed a helicopter in Cash's back yard to get attention and a chance in the music business. He abused drugs and booze just as much. But thanks for recognizing a great icon. At least he joined June soon.

    • profile image

      random 

      18 months ago

      he has the same birthday as me

    • profile image

      Tony bray 

      23 months ago

      Wish I could have done a song with him or hi son

    • Raevyn14 profile image

      Raevyn14 

      6 years ago from Tecumseh, Oklahoma

      He is one of the greatest musicians to have ever lived and played. He died doing what he loved to do

    • myawn profile image

      myawn 

      7 years ago from Florida

      I was raised on Cash's music my dad loved his songs and played and sang them all the time. His favorite was a boy named Sue. Mine is The Orange Blossom Special.very popular here in Florida. Very good hub!

    • DIYweddingplanner profile image

      DIYweddingplanner 

      7 years ago from South Carolina, USA

      Paul, Both of my parents were, and now my grown son is, a huge fan of Johnny Cash. A voice and soul like his are hard to come by. Thanks for posting.

    • PaulGoodman67 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Goodman 

      7 years ago from Florida USA

      Thank you for reading, Wayne.

    • Wayne Brown profile image

      Wayne Brown 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Thanks for sharing

    • PaulGoodman67 profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Goodman 

      7 years ago from Florida USA

      His most bizzarre health problem was the ostrich kick that he received in the 1980s. I was lucky enough to see him live in the 1990s before he was forced to stop touring.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 

      7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Interesting read. I had on idea his health problems were this extensive. He had a voice that was like no other...one of my favorites. RIP.

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