The truth about Johnny Cash and June Carter's relationship

A wise old professor used to caution his students about feeling too confident in their own righteousness. "It could be," he'd say, "you just haven't met an offer you couldn't refuse." That must go double for entertainers, no matter their public image. The more popular, the more temptations to deal with. Because once you're bringing in serious money, nobody wants to say no. A terrific object lesson from the "public image/no/temptation" file is the incredibly romantic tale of Johnny Cash and his second wife, June Carter. 

Back in the early days, the man in black was racking up hits and popularity, with his first wife at home and, eventually, four daughters. June Carter, meanwhile, was a member of the Carter Family — the daughter of Mother Maybelle Carter, as NPR reports — rendering her country music royalty. While Cash's wife, Vivian Liberto, stayed with the kids, he toured with the Carters, including June, and often had to reassure Liberto that he was true to their marriage: "I walk the line," he'd tell her, and probably stash that thought away for the future. 

According to Vivian's autobiography, I Walked the Line: My Life with Johnny, he was less than honest about that. Because temptation loomed large — both from drugs, as he became very fond of amphetamines, and from June Carter.

Despite everything, they remained married for 35 years

As the Ventura County Star reported, Liberto believed that it was Carter who went after Cash, not the other way around. Their daughter, Cindy, says that Carter "wanted Dad and she was going to get him. And she did. She made herself very available, to where he pursued her back."

June became Johnny's second wife, and Johnny her third husband. Arguably, theirs was not the most rock-solid foundation for a long-lasting marriage, built, perhaps, mostly on passion and desire (with a dollop of country music): as the Atlantic explains, Carter and her sister co-wrote Cash's hit "Ring of Fire," and the song was about her emotional response to she and the singer's forbidden relationship. That said, truth gets complicated, and Cash wasn't the only one relying on better living through chemistry. Their son, John, published his own book in 2007, reports Reuters, detailing not only his father's pill abuse, but his mother's. Evidently, their arguments were long and heated. She spent money egregiously, and he followed suit. As two people raised in religious households, there certainly had to have been enormous personal guilt over how their relationship began — just not enough to stop them. 

Nor did it keep him from cheating on her with her sister, Anita, as Esquire relates. Yet, somehow, Johnny and June made their marriage work. Per Biography, they had been married for 35 years when she died on May 15, 2003. Cash followed her into eternity that September.