Johnny Cash, the iconoclastic singer who belonged to both the Country and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame and enjoyed a monumental career that earned him fans from the 1950s to Generation Y, died early Friday morning, his manager, Lou Robin announced. He’d been released from a Nashville hospital earlier this week after a two-week bout of pancreatitis, but he was readmitted a day later and succumbed to respiratory failure, a complication of his diabetes. The Man in Black was 71.
Cash’s hits stretched from the birth of rockabilly at Memphis’ Sun Studios (where his labelmates included Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis) to the present day, with his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ ”Hurt” winning a prize last month at the MTV Video Music Awards. His many hits included ‘I Walk the Line,” ”Folsom Prison Blues” (with the notorious lyric, ”I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die”), and ”Ring of Fire,” cowritten by his second wife, country royalty June Carter Cash. He credited her with helping him find religion and kick alcohol and amphetamine addictions. They were married for 35 years, until her death in May 2003.
Cash won 11 Grammys during his lifetime. In the ’70s, his raw style was on the outs in Nashville, but he was eventually regarded as an elder statesman by a generation of country and rock acts. He revived his career in the ’90s with a series of stark, austere albums produced by hip-hop guru Rick Rubin, earning acclaim from MTV viewers too young to have seen his top-rated variety show on ABC in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He was at work on his fifth album with Rubin at the time of his death. Manager Robin said earlier this week that Cash had dozens of tracks in the can and had hoped to whittle them down to 16 for an album release early next year. Cash is survived by singer Rosanne Cash (his daughter by his first marriage), producer John Carter Cash (his son by June) and a stepdaughter, singer Carlene Carter.