• Publication date: September 18, 2009

From Poverty to Fame The Makings of a Genius Musician

Johnny Cash was a legendary American country music singer whose historical hits include �Folsom Prison Blues,� �Walk the Line,� and shortly before his death, �Hurt,� his acoustic rendition of a Nine Inch Nails track accompanied by an acclaimed music video.

Johnny Cash was a legendary American country music singer whose historical hits include �Folsom Prison Blues,� �Walk the Line,� and shortly before his death, �Hurt,� his acoustic rendition of a Nine Inch Nails track accompanied by an acclaimed music video. The film �Walk the Line� (2005) is an attempt not so much to document Cash�s achievements or his nearly fifty year career, but to provide a glimpse of the events that shaped the man behind the music, both the good and the bad.

Cash passed away on September 12, 2003 � four months after his wife, singer June Carter. Despite that, both he and his wife oversaw �Walk the Line� to a great extent. One of Cash�s stipulations for the film�s creators was that the actors could not lip-sync or pretend to play instruments. Joaquin Phoenix, who portrays Cash, spent months taking vocal lessons and attempting, from scratch to learn the guitar. Indeed, fans might even have a hard time distinguishing Cash�s imitation from the real thing.

The story begins in the depression era 40s; Cash is the young son of an alcoholic sharecropper. His elder brother, Jack (Lucas Till) aspires to become a minister, attempting to memorize the Bible from front to back. Young Johnny (then known as J.R.) has little interest in becoming a preacher, but he does have a good voice � just like his mother, and he exercises it each week in church.

One day while J.R. and Jack were working at a neighbor�s sawing wood, Johnny decided it was boring and opted to go fishing instead; his brother didn�t seem to mind. Upon returning from fishing J.R.�s dad, Ray (Robert Patrick) appeared in bloodied clothes and informed him that Jack had died in an accident involving the saw. Whether based in fact or not, Ray from that point on assumed that if J.R. had been present Jack would not have been hurt; his grudge was never quite resolved and Ray would regularly remark that, �God took the wrong son.�

Upon reaching adulthood Johnny was eager to leave his unwelcoming father and joined the Air Force where he was sent to Germany for training. While in Germany he bought his first guitar and viewed a movie, �Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison� (1951) that would inspire one of his most prolific songs. When he finished his military service Cash moved to Memphis, Tennessee where he married his first wife, Vivian. It was in Memphis that he met Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records and auditioned for him. Phillips was initially unimpressed, but when Cash began singing his song, �Folsom Prison Blues� the record executive knew he had a star.

What follows are the blessings and curses of stardom. The singer�s marriage to Vivian fell apart; his career enters a slow period, and he becomes addicted to drugs � even serving jail time for possession of them. With the help of his second wife, fellow country singer June Carter, Cash reemerges and reinvents himself, inspiring a new generation of musicians even after his passing.

�Walk the Line� was a runaway success and grossed over $186 million worldwide; the film�s DVD sold three million copies on its day of release alone. Reese Witherspoon, who portrayed June Carter, won an Oscar for her performance. Fans of Cash will undoubtedly be pleased with the film while newcomers can catch a glimpse of one of America�s most profound recording artists.

The film is rated PG-13 due to some harsh language/themes and depictions of drug dependency. Its runtime is 136 mintes.