“How lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met… You’re the object of my desire, the #1 earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much,” Johnny Cash wrote to June Carter in a heartfelt letter for her 65th birthday.
This very letter, shared from one music legend to another, was voted in a poll as one of the greatest love letters of all time, according to the Daily Mail. And it’s a testament to one of the greatest romances that the world has ever known.
On May 15, 2003, Cash lost the woman he dearly loved after Carter passed away at the age of 73 from complications left by heart surgery, according to Billboard.
“I spoke to Johnny maybe a half-hour or an hour after [June] passed away,” said Rick Rubin, as quoted by Arkansas Times, “and he sounded, by far, the worst I’d ever heard him. He sounded terrible. He said that he’d experienced so much pain in his life and that nothing came anywhere near to how he was feeling at that moment.”
After a wonderful love story and more than three decades of being married to the woman he loved, Cash was left lonely and devastated by his wife’s death. “He missed her so bad,” his daughter Cindy Panetta told Steve Turner, who wrote the book, The Man Called Cash: The Life, Love and Faith of an American Legend. “He sobbed for her daily. He would pick up the phone to talk to her as if she was on the other end.”
Cash was already in a frail condition when Carter came out of her heart surgery. But that didn’t stop him from spending time by her bedside when she was in a coma. Sitting in his wheelchair, he would go to her every half an hour or so, talking to her, singing to her, and reading to her from the Bible, according to Fox News. Turner even wrote, “He begged her not to leave him.”
Eventually, the doctors had to have a difficult conversation with the family. 73-year-old Carter was showing no brain activity; she was in a vegetative state that could not be reversed. At the end of the conversation, the entire family looked at Cash, who then asked the family to join hands and say a prayer. He said, “If anyone has anything to say to June, you should say it now.” And after that, he gave the doctors his permission to take his wife off life support.
The death of Carter marked the beginning of Cash’s final few months, the months of grief that he spent before his own death. Even though he was close to the point of blindness at the time, he had a large portrait of Carter painted in his house. And “back in his office, the pictures of June’s warm face around him, he would grieve,” said Michael Streissguth.
It started discomforting Cash to sleep alone in his own bedroom. So, he retreated to a small hospital bed, placed in his office, where his daughters would often hear their father quietly sobbing. “I would think I heard him calling me or something,” his daughter said, “and I would go in there and he would be, ‘I miss her.’ Just like a child. He would talk to her. It was devastating.”
Joanne Yates, Cash’s sister had also told Turner in his book, “He would look at me, a couple of times with tears in his eyes, and he would say, ‘I can hardly wait to see heaven, to see the Lord and to see our family’.”
About four months after Carter’s death, Johnny Cash passed away at 71 on September 12, 2003, due to a respiratory failure caused by complications of diabetes. He was laid to rest right by the side of his wife.
Together, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash left with a glorious legacy in music history and a love story that won’t be forgotten for long.