How did Johnny Cash Die? The Details Behind The Star’s Demise

Last updated on May 26th, 2023 at 01:46 pm

Johnny Cash was a musician icon of the 20th century. While the man in black is no more among us, his hit songs like “Ring of Fire” and “A Boy Named Sue” continue to air on radio stations around the world.

Cash sold over 90 million records across the globe and embraced the genres of folk, blues, rockabilly, rock and roll, country, and gospel.

But how did Johnny Cash die? Here is all you need to know about the death of Johnny Cash.

How Did Johnny Cash Die?

Cash’s death resulted from complications arising from diabetes. He was buried alongside his wife, June, in Hendersonville Memory Gardens, where they had lived in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

The music industry, and music lovers, were in a state of shock and somberness at Johnny Cash’s death. However, his demise was not a surprise for those who knew he had been suffering from not one but multiple serious health issues.

Before the start of the 1990s, Cash had been plagued with poor health and had undergone surgeries on his jaw, heart, and knees.

Cash was notorious for having subjected his body to alcohol and drug abuse at several different stages of his life.

Cash was diagnosed with automatic neuropathy in 1997, a condition that can come with diabetes. It rapidly deteriorated his health.

However, Cash had been inflicted with the condition long before it was correctly diagnosed. Initially, his doctor misdiagnosed him with Shy-Drager syndrome. 

Eventually, Cash could not tour due to his condition. He would spend more time with his wife, June, and focused more on recording songs in the studio. 

In 1998, Cash was hospitalized due to pneumonia that caused lung damage, but that did not stop him from recording music.


The redemption, moral tribulation, and sorrowful themes, especially later in his career, were something that Cash was known for.

When American IV: The Man Comes Around came around in 2002, the darkness and somberness once associated with Cash’s music took to new, unprecedented levels. 

The album made it clear to many that the singer was trying to come to terms with his mortality.

This album featured Cash’s cover of the song, “Hurt.” The song was originally released by the band Nine Inch Nails about a bad breakup.

June Carter’s Death

What did Johnny Cash die of? ‘A lack of will to live,’ many would say. 

The immense success of “Hurt” indicated a new creative peak in Cash’s career and created an afterglow that the singer seemed to enjoy, but it all came crashing down with the death of his wife.

June Carter underwent surgery for the replacement of a heart valve in May 2003 and died during the operation. This was a terrible blow to Cash.

Many believe June’s death was a major factor in the death of Cash, as he passed away only four months later.

June Carter had been a powerful and highly supportive companion to Cash for 35 years. She supplemented him with stability and helped him battle through the toughest, darkest phases of his life involving addictions and illnesses.

With her gone, Cash was never the same as he was before. It was June’s wish that Cash kept recording after she died, and so he told his producer, Rick Rubin, to keep him occupied in the studio every day.

It was just a week after June’s death that Cash recorded five new songs. He would also give impromptu performances here and there for friends and family.

 At one such performance, Cash read out a statement

“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.”

This particular performance was at the Carter Family Fold and took place on the 5th of July 2003.

The legend performed the hit “Ring of Fire” that June had co-written in 1963 about her feelings of falling in love with Johnny. It turned out to be Cash’s very last performance.

What Year Did Johnny Cash Die?

Johnny Cash died in 2003 at Nashville’s Baptist Hospital. When did Johnny Cash die exactly? On 12th September, in the early morning hours. It is rumored that his last words were, “I hear the train a-comin.”

How Old Was Johnny Cash When He Died?

Cash was 71 and a half when he died. He was born on 26th February 1932, in Kingsland, Arkansas, to poor cotton farmers. 

He spent four years in the Air Force, after which he rose to popularity in Memphis, Tennessee, during the rockabilly scene. 

Some of his signature songs include “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Man in Black,” “Get Rhythm,” “Ring of Fire,” and “I Walk the Line.”

During the course of his career, Cash won an impressive 18 Grammy Awards and released more than 50 studio albums. 

The award categories include, but are not limited to, “Best Male Country Vocal Performance,” and “Best Country Album.” 

What Was Johnny Cash Addicted To?

Cash had been a heavy drinker at several stages across his career and even became addicted to prescription pills. It was in the late 1950s when Cash was quickly rising to fame that he admitted to being addicted to barbiturates and amphetamines

“I got into the habit of amphetamines. I took them for seven years. I just liked the feel of them. It lifts you and, under certain conditions, it intensifies all your senses.

You took more pills to cover up the guilt feelings. I got to playing one against the other, the uppers against the downers, and it got to be a vicious, vicious circle. And they got to pulling me down”.

What drugs did Johnny Cash take other than these? We cannot say for sure. He was arrested in the 1960s when more than 1000 pills of sedatives and amphetamines were recovered from inside his guitar case by a narcotics squad in Texas. 

Cash was doing 300 shows a year at the time he divorced his first wife and eventually married June, who tried her best to keep him off drugs.

She stayed with him during his multiple admissions at different rehab treatment facilities and flushed his pills down the toilet whenever possible. 

It was not until 1992 that Cash was able to fully do away with his addiction. Before that, he quit and relapsed on various drugs quite a few times, and was subjected to frequent rehab admissions.

The life of Johnny Cash has been nothing short of a gift for all music lovers. His death was a tragedy that none of us were ready for, but it only strengthened what we already knew about him – that he was a living, breathing legend.

Considering how old Johnny Cash was when he passed away, it is safe to say that he lived a full life, one that brought a lot of joy to our lives. 

The music career of Johnny Cash has been dramatized in Walk the Line, a biopic that came out in 2005. His death earned Cash a number of tributes and posthumous awards from across the music industry and business.

He was a rebel that many believed to be a role model and a superhero – and rightfully so. Through his final albums, Johnny presented his vulnerable, hurt side, which further imbues him with respect as a human being. 

According to Rick Rubin, one of his final publishers, these albums brought him closer to the people at the end of his life. He could relate, he could advise, and most importantly, he could teach people how to love, live, and let live. 

His long career showcased his love for spreading the gospel and religious views, even though publishers weren’t as interested in the fact as he was.

In the end, when you ask why did Johnny Cash die? The answer includes several factors, but nothing can change the fact that he is gone.

Questions like “What did Johnny Cash die from?” and “How old was Johnny Cash when he passed away?” do not matter as his departure left a void in the music world.

Thankfully, though, he lived long enough to spread the promise of life and assurance of redemption like the legend he is, and for that, he deserves our respect.

Related story: Everything you need to know about Johnny Cash

Written by Anna Paulson


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