Fifty-four years ago today (Feb. 22, 1968), Johnny Cash was one happy man. It was on that date that the Man in Black proposed to his then-girlfriend, June Carter, while they were performing together onstage in London, Ontario, Canada.
Cash and Carter first met backstage at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956, when Carter was singing background vocals for Elvis Presley. At the time, Cash was married to his first wife, Vivian Liberto, but after having four daughters together, Liberto divorced Cash, citing his ongoing addiction issues and alleged affairs as the reasons for the split.
Cash and Liberto’s divorce was official by the end of 1967, paving the way for Cash to marry Carter; however, Liberto, who passed away in 2005, wrote in her autobiography, I Walk the Line: My Life With Johnny, that the divorce was a “degrading, horrible experience,” and she blamed Cash’s new wife for the split.
“I should have been relentless at saving it,” Liberto adds, “as relentless as June was at destroying it.”
Nonetheless, Cash wed Carter on March 1, 1968, less than two weeks after proposing. They had one child together, John Carter Cash, who was born in 1970. The couple performed frequently together and released several collaborative albums, including Carryin’ on With Johnny Cash and June Carter, Johnny & June and June Carter and Johnny Cash: Duets.
“The love that John and I share with our love for Christ is one of the most precious gifts God could have given us,” June Carter said of her husband.
Known for his poignant love letters, Cash penned one to his wife in 1994, for her 65th birthday, that was named the greatest love letter of all time in 2015.
“Maybe sometimes take each other for granted,” Cash wrote. “But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the No. 1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.”
Kacey Musgraves and Ruston Kelly, then married, interpreted some of Cash’s lovely words to his wife in a song, “To June This Morning,” which appears on the Johnny Cash: Forever Words collection. The 16-song album is the musical companion to Forever Words: The Unknown Poems, a printed publication of Cash’s found writing.
Cash and Carter’s love story played out on both the big and small screens as well: Reese Witherspoon earned an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Carter in the 2005 blockbuster film Walk the Line, opposite Joaquin Phoenix, while Jewel portrayed the singer in a Lifetime movie based on a memoir by John Carter Cash, Anchored in Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash. And in 2017, Brad Paisley filmed the video for “Gold All Over the Ground” at Cash Cabin Studio, and juxtaposed footage of this visit with homages to the couple’s love story.
Carter passed away on May 15, 2003. Cash died less than four months later, on Sept. 12.
This story was originally written by Gayle Thompson, and revised by Annie Zaleski.
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