Recorded over 1500 songs throughout his career.
His songwriting went from a brief process to a very long one as he aged and his health declined. He wrote the song "Big River" while on a short boat-ride across the Hudson River in the 1950s, while he spent weeks crafting "The Man Comes Around," one of the last songs he wrote.
After the 1950s, when he wrote almost all of the songs he performed, he performed many covers. On the average album, he was the writer of about a third of the songs.
Contrary to popular belief, he never served more than one night in prison (he was held in jail overnight once after being caught smuggling 1,163 amphetamine tablets across from Mexico). He actually wrote "Folsom Prison Blues" after seeing the documentary Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951).
The US Air Force would not accept "J.R." as a given name when he enlisted, so he became John R. Cash. He signed for Sun Records in 1955 (a year after his discharge) and had his name changed again ... to Johnny Cash
His size varied considerably over time. Standing 6' 2", he weighed about 200 pounds as a young man, but then his weight plummeted to an unhealthy 140 pounds when his drug addiction was at its peak in the mid-1960s. His weight increased when he kicked his habits, and he eventually became overweight, weighing about 250 pounds by his 50s.
His album "Ring of Fire" (1964) was the first country album to ever reach the top of the US pop charts.
He was addicted to speed (usually with alcohol or morphine as a chaser) through much of his 20s until 1967, when June Carter Cash and numerous members of his friends and family staged an arduous but successful intervention. It is thought that Cash had an addiction personality which he may have inherited from his genes, as many members of his family were addicts to various vices.
Cash and "American Recordings" posted a "thank you" to the Nashville country music industry in Billboard Magazine after winning the Grammy for best country record for "Unchained" in the form of the infamous photo of Johnny angrily giving the middle finger to the camera taken back in 1969 during his San Quentin prison performance. Cash did this because he was enraged by Nashville having pretty much left behind him and other aging "country" artists who had defined the genre to make room for the more pop-oriented new country artists, like Garth Brooks.
In the 1970s he tried to help his close friend, legendary Nashville guitarist Hank Garland, restart his career by bringing him into the studio to record.
He went through much of the 1970s on a sanctimonious cloud, having associated himself with evangelists, turned his shows into gospel performances where he encouraged people to accept Jesus Christ and condemned blatant sexuality and violence in culture. Cash said in the 1990s that, although his faith remained as strong as ever and many of his songs expressed this, his attitudes had changes and he found his 1970s overzealousness distasteful, having learned to respect that people should have their own beliefs.
When invited to perform at the White House for the first time in 1972, President Richard Nixon's office requested that he play "Okie from Muskogee" (a Merle Haggard song that negatively portrays youthful drug users and war protesters) and "Welfare Cadillac" (a Guy Drake song that derides the integrity of welfare recipients). It was reported that Cash refused to play either song because he apparently found both songs morally reprehensible. However he refused to play either song because he did not have enough time to learn the songs with the band before the performance. He ended up playing a series of his own more left-leaning,politically-charged songs, including "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" (about a brave Native- American World War II veteran who was racially mistreated upon his return to Arizona) and "Man in Black" (which contains angry, anti-war lyrics, which Cash almost certainly wrote about the Vietnam War).
Apart from his performances at Folsom Prison and San Quentin, Cash also performed at Österåkeranstalten (The Österåker Prison) north of Stockholm, Sweden in 1972. The recording was released in 1973. Between the songs Cash can be heard speaking Swedish which was greatly appreciated by the inmates.
Was often the subject of humorous sketches on "Saturday Night Live" (1975). He was usually portrayed by the late Phil Hartman and, later, has been occasionally played by Darrell Hammond. Coincidentally, both funnymen were best known for playing another famous Arkansas native, Bill Clinton.
He had long since kicked his drug habit when, in a bizarre series of events in the early 1980s, he was attacked by a male ostrich he had been keeping on his farm after he had threatened the huge bird. He was put onto painkillers to survive the critical injuries and quickly became addicted. He checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic, successfully quit them and made friends with Ozzy Osbourne during his stay.
Member of the Highwaymen, with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. The foursome had recorded several albums together in the 1980s & 1990s.
Cash's career was at an all-time low in the 1980s and he realised his record label of nearly 30 years, Columbia, was growing indifferent to him and wasn't properly marketing him, so to kill the relationship with the label before they did, Cash recorded "Chicken in Black". An intentionally awful song about Johnny's brain being transplanted to a chicken, it ironically turned out to be a larger commercial success than any of his other recent material. However, it wasn't long after "Chicken in Black" that Columbia and Cash parted ways.
In the 1980s he found love letters to wife June Carter Cash from Elvis Presley in their attic. Upon finding these, he burned them.
November 1997: Treated for pneumonia.
According to tell-all books "Anchored In Love", by Cash's son John Carter Cash, and "I Was There When It Happened", by longtime friend and band member Marshall Grant, Cash was addicted to drugs for most of his adult life. Cash confessed much of this in "Johnny Cash: The Autobiography", published in 1997 by Harper Collins. Cash did not completely stop using drugs after his well-storied withdrawal in 1967. He was drug-free from 1970 through 1977, when he started taking amphetamines again. A 1983 attack by an ostrich (the animal was part of Cash's menagerie near Nashville) required hospitalization, where it was discovered that Cash was sneaking more painkillers than he'd been prescribed. Cash entered the Betty Ford Clinic in 1983 and stayed clean for a short time. His next relapse put him into Nashville's Cumberland Heights Alcohol and Drug Treatment Center in 1989. After another battle with drugs in the early 1990s, he discovered that his wife, June Carter, and his son, John Carter Cash, were both addicted to narcotics. The younger Cash cleaned up shortly before the deaths of his parents in 2003. According to John Carter Cash, his mother never confronted her addiction. It is not known for certain whether or not Johnny Cash ever completely extricated himself from drug abuse.
2001: He was awarded the American National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment of the Arts.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 73-76. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.
The band Coldplay were supposed to record a song titled "Til Kingdom Comes" with him for their album "X&Y", but Cash died before that. They added the song as a hidden track and dedicated it to Cash. In their current "Twisted Logic Tour" they are playing this song in all the venues in addition to playing a cover of Johnny Cash's famous song "Ring of Fire". On the two nights(6 & 7 September 2005) at Madison Square Garden, New York they also dedicated the song "Til Kingdom Comes" to the victims of hurricane Katrina.
January 2006: His long-time lakeside home in Hendersonville, TN, was bought by a corporation owned by The Bee Gees' Barry Gibb.