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Cash on stage with his acoustic guitar in the mid-1950s, around the time his career started taking off. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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A young Johnny Cash, a new artist at Sun Studios records, finds himself in an impromptu jam session with rock and roll legends Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley at the Memphis studio on December 4, 1956.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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A solemn Cash poses for a portrait in 1957. This was the very same year he released his first full-length album with Sun Records. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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A pensive Cash poses for a dark, moody, portrait in 1957 in Memphis.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Johnny Cash plays a song for his first wife, Vivian Liberto, circa 1957. The couple remained together for 14 years, until Liberto finally filed for divorce on account of Cash's infidelity.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Cash with Liberto and their daughters. She would later claim that his affair with June Carter was responsible for ruining her and Cash's relationship. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Johnny Cash in 1959 performing on the The Ed Sullivan Show in New York. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
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Johnny Cash reclines on a couch while playing acoustic guitar in 1960 in Nashville, Tennessee. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Cash recording in the studio, 1960. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Cash always said that songwriting came naturally to him — it was something he had been doing since he was 12 years old.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Cash acts surprised behind the scenes at the Hammersmith in London.Jan Olofsson/Redferns via Getty Images
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Cash poses with the folk foursome The Brothers Four circa 1963.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Johnny Cash strums his guitar circa 1965. During this period, he became heavily reliant on prescription drugs. In October 1965, U.S. customs agents arrested Cash when they found hundreds of pep pills and tranquilizers in his luggage. Cash would pay a $1,000 fine and receive a 30-day suspended sentence for his crime.Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Cash's mug shot following his October 1965 arrest. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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June Carter and Johnny Cash leave Kansas State Prison after a performance in 1968. Over the course of his career, Cash would make a habit of performing at prisons.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Johnny Cash chats with some of the inmates and guests during his visit to Cummins Prison in Arkansas. April 10, 1969.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Johnny Cash laughs with Cass Elliot on The Johnny Cash Show in 1969. Cash hosted the music variety show from 1969 through 1971 and featured many acclaimed folk and country musicians, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Tammy Wynette.ABC Television/Wikimedia Commons
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June Carter and Johnny Cash performing on stage in New York, 1970. The musical duo's performance of If I Were a Carpenter would win them a Grammy that year for Best Country Performance.Ron Galella/Getty Images
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Cash and Carter performing together during the 1970s. By this point, the two had married and were beginning to start a family together. Pictorial Parade/Getty Images
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Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash hold their infant son John Carter Cash in a promotional portrait for the film A Gunfight, a Western that was one of Cash's first forays into the world of acting. 1970.Paramount Pictures/Getty Images
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Shortly after welcoming his son, John, into the world, in 1971 Cash embarked on a Scandinavian tour. Here, the family arrives in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Express Newspapers/Getty Images
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Johnny Cash and June Carter performing in Amsterdam, 1972.Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns via Getty Images
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Cash is lively while performing on stage at the Grand Gala du Disque, Amsterdam, 1972.Central Press/Getty Images
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Cash and Carter pose together in the back of their limousine. This picture shows the couple in Amsterdam in 1972, in the midst of a tour.Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns via Getty Images
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When the country music scene was being dominated by flashy cowboy hats and rhinestone-studded shirts, Cash said he wore black to represent the poor, hungry, and forgotten. This look from a 1972 performance is emblematic of his style. His own lyrics say it best:
"We're doing mighty fine I do suppose
In our streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes.
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought to be a man in black."
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In 1975, Cash hosted and played at the 11th annual Country Music Association Awards at Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, Tennessee. This is one of the promotional pictures used to advertise the event.CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
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Cash appears alongside musical peers in the Country Music Variety Show. Here, he is pictured with fellow artists (from left) Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Glen Campbell.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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Cash waits to perform alongside his wife, June, at the A.P. Carter Memorial Festival in Maces Springs, Virginia. Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images
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Cash plays at the infamous Felt Forum in New York City, 1976. Waring Abbott/Getty Images
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Cash appearing on Saturday Night Live in 1982 with (from left) Joe Piscopo, Eddie Murphy, and Brian Doyle-Murray.NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
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Johnny Cash receives an award from a Marine sergeant during his performance for military personnel at the naval station. Cash, an Air Force veteran, often made a point to offer free shows to the troops. 1987.Gary Rice/Wikimedia Commons
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Cash in the early 1990s, when he headed to Frankfurt to take part in the International Country Festival. SCHMITT/AFP/Getty Images
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Cash performing at the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago in 1990.Paul Natkin/Getty Images
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Johnny Cash with his acoustic guitar in Nashville.Beth Gwinn/Redferns via Getty Images
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Cash poses for a 2001 portrait. The singer-songwriter would die just two years later. Harry Langdon/Getty Images
Years after his death, the Man in Black continues to enthrall the world with his musical legacy, a body of work that captures moral struggle, loss, and a never-ending quest for redemption. But it isn't only music that tells the story — this revealing collection of Johnny Cash photos cuts straight to the heart of the serious, enigmatic musician.
Johnny Cash's musical career spanned approximately half a century. During that time, Cash amassed hit after hit, sold 90 million records, and was inducted into three separate halls of fame — country, rock and roll, and gospel.
But that's not to say that Cash's ride came without any complications. He struggled with depression and drug addiction throughout his life, afflictions that would sever relationships and threaten the future of his career — even his life.
His trials and tribulations were reflected in his music. His earliest memories were of his family's struggles during the Great Depression, an experience that rooted his sympathies and convictions firmly in the values of working class America, even as his own success brought him fame and fortune.
Johnny Cash photos show a man who had made it big — but life was never easy.
The path wasn't always easy. His initial auditions were plagued by bad luck. In 1954, recently married and a newcomer to Tennessee, he auditioned for Sam Phillips, then Elvis Presley's producer, at the Sun Records studio by singing gospel music, the songs he learned as a child at his mother's knee.
But it turned out that Phillips was no longer interested in hymns. That, he said, was the music of the past. He wanted to produce the music of a new generation: rock and roll. And he wouldn't listen to young Johnny Cash until he came back with something fresh.
So that's what Cash did. He returned to audition with a new style, a smooth rockabilly sound that was as distinctive as it was evocative of Cash himself. It launched him straight to the top of the country music charts.
A young Johnny Cash displays his early style in a televised 1957 performance, well before he adopted the iconic all-black look of famous Johnny Cash photos.
But the price for success was high. As his career took off, he started to take barbiturates and amphetamines — initially to keep his energy up and ward off anxiety on tours.
His drinking and drug use landed him in jail on seven separate occasions, but never for more than a single night. For fans, his behavior simply made him a romantic outlaw — but his friends were getting worried.
Religion and fellow singer June Carter helped Cash get clean the first time, but the journey toward sobriety would be a long one. The torturous path, the mistakes, and the search for forgiveness are audible themes in Cash's music.
Johnny Cash explains for the first time why he always wears black.
From his musical highs to his drug-fueled lows, the rich, dark history of a music legend shines through some of the most iconic Johnny Cash photos.