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Johnny Cash Did Not Say ‘I Love You’ to June Carter for Years - She Declined His First Proposals

Joe Akins
Jan 29, 2022
07:00 A.M.
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Johnny Cash's 35-year marriage with Hollywood icon June Carter inspired some of the biggest love songs and movies. However, it took years for June to say yes to the king of country music.

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A big part of the culture of Hollywood is the inspiring romance between some of its best stars. Like the fictional Jack and Rose in the 1997 classic, "Titanic," several celebrities have enjoyed remarkable love stories, but a few compare to Johnny Cash's marriage with June Carter.

The couple both had successful careers; however, their marriage was the highlight of their lives. June came from a background of established country singers. Her mother, Maybelle Carter, was a country music icon whose songs were widely popular.

Country singer/songwriter Johnny Cash poses for a portrait in circa 1957 [left]. Johnny Cash and June Carter on "The Johnny Cash Show" on June 7, 1969 | Photo: Getty Images

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Unlike June, Cash came from a poor farming community but rose to become one of the best singers of his time. His singing style mostly varied country music, rock, blues, and gospel influences.

Cash, also known as the Man in Black, was one of the few singers who outlived trends. He became a legendary figure reintroduced to each younger generation, both for his tone, which displayed the command of a country patriarch, and his fashion style, which looked like that of a vintage undertaker.

The late 72-year-old was a member of the legendary country supergroup the Highwaymen and wrote some of the group's best songs in collaboration with iconic producer Rick Rubin.

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Country singer and songwriter Johnny Cash in 1969 | Source: Getty Images

Cash enjoyed several years of success. His lyrics mostly captured the lives of coal miners and sharecroppers, criminals and cowboys, railroad workers and laborers. Cash's style blended storytelling with his baritone voice.

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A COUNTRY FORCE

Apart from being an iconic singer, Cash tried his hand at acting, appearing in the 1961 movie "Five Minutes to Live" and a few Western-themed TV programs. He also hosted the variety TV series "The Johnny Cash Show," which showcased contemporary stars like Bob Dylan and Louis Armstrong.

The "A Thing Called Love" crooner enjoyed several standout moments in his career. Cash became the youngest singer to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980.

Johnny Cash with wife June Carter live at Wembley Conference Centre on 01/03/1979 | Photo: Getty Images

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From his rise in the '60s to his death, Cash's life inspired the feature film "Walk the Line." Even after his death, his records continued to top the charts. However, the "Man in Black" author's life is incomplete without mentioning the strong bond he shared with June.

The couple shared more than romantic intimacy. To some, June was the sole reason Cash's career sustained its legacy and success. The late 73-year-old became his source of inspiration and helped him overcome his struggles.

MEETING JUNE

Cash collaborated with some of the best singers of the '50s, including Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. The group was once pictured together in 1956, creating musical magic. The moment became known as the "Million Dollar Quartet."

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Married country singers Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash pose for a portrait at an event in September 1969 in California. | Photo: Getty Images

Presley had a great influence on Cash's career. The duo was signed to the same Sun record label. According to Cash, he and the late King of Rock n Roll enjoyed a great relationship and mutually admired each other's works.

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Presley often sang the praises of his fellow Sun artists. According to June, the famous music king often raved about how great a singer Cash was. She also admitted that her daughter had fallen in love with Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," which she used to rock her to sleep.

It was, without a doubt, a remarkable occasion when Cash and June met in 1956 backstage at the Opry. It was the night Cash made his on-stage debut with his song, "Walk the Line."

Johnny Cash with his first wife Vivian Liberto in 1957 | Source: Getty Images

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Their first meeting left a lasting impression on June. She was captured by the singer's excellence and command of his performance that night, and she became stunned and in awe of him.

The country queen later opened up on how she felt during their first meeting in her liner note for Cash's 2000 box set, "Love, God, Murder." June wrote, "I can't remember anything else we talked about, except his eyes. Those black eyes that shone like agates."

She continued, "He had a command of his performances 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."

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Johnny Cash, Vivian Liberto, Rosanne Cash, and Kathy Cash in 1957. | Photo: Getty Images

At their meeting, both stars were already married and had kids. However, that night changed the course of their lives and set them on a path of endless romance.

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LIFE BEFORE THEIR ROMANCE

Before embracing fame, Cash was married to his heartthrob Vivian Liberto. The couple stayed together for 13 years, during which time the country star rose to become a leading figure in show biz.

Cash and Liberto met in the summer of 1951 at a roller rink in San Antonio, where she had been raised in a strict Catholic family. The couple had many things in common, including their love for religion.

Johnny Cash with his wife, American singer and actress June Carter at Heathrow Airport, UK,1968 | Source: Getty Images

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A romance erupted between them. Cash left for Germany a few weeks later, and they began a long-distance relationship, exchanging hundreds of letters in the years they were apart.

Later, the couple got married and began a family; however, their marriage became strained by Cash's tight schedule and alcohol use. Things became more complicated when rumors emerged that he was having an affair.

Meanwhile, June's first marriage was to Carl Smith, a honky-tonk performer with whom she had one daughter, Rebecca. The couple divorced in 1956, and the country singer married former footballer Edwin "Rip" Nix a year later. Edwin and June had a daughter named Rozanna.

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Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash pose for a portrait in circa 1975 | Photo: Getty Images

FALLING IN LOVE

June and Cash seemed destined to meet. Before their collaboration, Cash told the stunning singer he had always wanted to meet her. However, as they got closer, their feelings grew.

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Since both stars were married, it was difficult to admit their feelings. Nevertheless, the duo began to work professionally in the early 1960s. June toured with Cash as a backup singer, but she was falling for him.

In a chat with Rolling Stones, the country icon opened up about how difficult it was to be with Cash, even though she loved him.

Johnny Cash posing with a guitar in 1994. | Photo: Getty Images

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June said, "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. One morning, about four o'clock, I was driving my car just about as fast as I could…."

She continued, "I was miserable, and it all came to me: 'I'm falling in love with somebody I have no right to fall in love with'… I thought, 'I can't fall in love with this man, but it's just like a ring of fire.'"

Cash expressed similar sentiments at the time, telling Rolling Stone that they had yet to say "I love you" to each other because they were afraid it would lead to a divorce from their partners. According to him, they were both going through hell.

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ohnny Cash (1932 - 2003) with his wife June Carter Cash (1929 - 2003) and three of their children, circa 1976. | Photo: Getty Images

Liberto suspected her husband of having an affair with June and filed for divorce in 1966, citing fidelity concerns and his drug troubles as causes. Cash's daughter, Rosanne, later admitted that the split was painful but seemed inevitable.

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HAPPY LIFE TOGETHER

Having divorced their partners, the road was clear for their love to flourish. Neither party spoke about when they began secretly seeing each other. However, June was reluctant to walk down the aisle despite being with Carter for years.

She reportedly turned down his request to marry him several times until he pulled a public stunt, proposing to her in front of a 7,000-person concert audience in London, Ontario, in February 1968.

Johnny Cash with son John Carter Cash in 1975 | Source: Wikimedia Commons/Inter-Comm Public Relations, Johnny Cash and Son 1975, marked as public domain

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June gave birth to a son, John, two years later, and the pair merged their families. June had a strong presence in Cash's life and even taught his daughter, Rosanne, to be an established performer. Together, the couple had seven children in total.

June and Cash had a great connection, both romantically and musically, writing and performing classic songs like "Ring of Fire" and "Jackson." They stayed together for three and a half decades, honoring their vows to be together till death.

June was a support system for Cash when he struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. She helped him reclaim his hold on his faith and steered him back to the path of career success.

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Johnny Cash, his wife June Carter and their son John arrive for the filming of "Following the Footsteps of Jesus." | Photo: Getty Images

FINAL YEARS

Although not in the best of health conditions, June and Cash spent their last days together. The couple died four months apart. However, their legacy remains intact. June died in May 2003 from complications during a heart valve replacement procedure.

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At her death, Cash said, "The spirit of June Carter overshadows me tonight with the love she had for me and the love I have for her. She's never been one for me except courage and inspiration. I thank God for June Carter. I love her with all my heart."

Portrait of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash circa 2002 | Photo: Getty Images

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Cash battled several health concerns and was in and out of hospitals. He died of diabetes-related complications on September 12, 2003. His health deteriorated after being diagnosed with Shy–Drager syndrome in 1997. 

However, it was a misdiagnosis. Cash suffered from autonomic neuropathy associated with diabetes. This prevented him from touring. However, he continued to make music until he breathed his last breath.

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