Country singer Johnny Cash, who died this morning, had been battling ill health for some time.
“Johnny died due to complications from diabetes, which resulted in respiratory failure,” said Cash’s manager, Lou Robin.
Cash died at Nashville’s Baptist Hospital at 1 a.m. (6am Irish time).
He had been released from Baptist on Wednesday where he had spent two weeks being treated for an unspecified stomach ailment.
“I hope that friends and fans of Johnny will pray for the Cash family to find comfort during this very difficult time,” Robin said.
Cash had battled a disease of the nervous system, autonomic neuropathy, and pneumonia in recent years and was once diagnosed with a disease called Shy-Drager’s syndrome, a diagnosis that was later deemed to be erroneous.
Dozens of hit records like Folsom Prison Blues, I Walk the Line and A Boy Named Sue defined Cash’s persona: a haunted, dignified, resilient spokesman for the working man and downtrodden.
Cash’s deeply lined face fit well with his unsteady voice, which was limited in range but used to great effect to sing about prisoners, heartaches, and tales of everyday life. He wrote much of his own material, and was among the first to record the songs of Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson.
One Piece at a Time was about an assembly line worker who built a car out of parts stolen from his factory.
A Boy Named Sue was a comical story of a father who gives his son a girl’s name to make him tough.
The Ballad of Ira Hayes told of the drunken death of an American Indian soldier who helped raised the American flag at Iwo Jima during the Second World War, but returned to harsh racism in America.
Cash said in his 1997 autobiography Cash” that he tried to speak for “voices that were ignored or even suppressed in the entertainment media, not to mention the political and educational establishments.”
Cash’s career spanned generations, with each finding something of value in his simple records, many of which used his trademark “boom-chicka-boom” rhythm.
Cash was a peer of Elvis Presley when rock’n roll was born in Memphis in the 1950s, and he scored hits like Cry! Cry! Cry! during that era. He had a long-time friendship and recorded with Dylan, who has cited Cash as a major influence.
He won 11 Grammys – most recently in 2003, when Give My Love To Rose earned him honours as best male country vocal performance – and numerous Country Music Association awards.
He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1980 and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
His second wife, June Carter Cash, and daughter Roseanne Cash also were successful singers.
June Carter Cash, who co-wrote Cash’s hit Ring of Fire and partnered with her husband in hits such as Jackson, died in May.
The late 1960s and ’70s were Cash’s peak commercial years, and he was host of his own TV variety show from 1969-71. In later years, he was part of the Highwayman supergroup with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kristofferson.
In the 1990s, he found a new artistic life recording with rap and hard rock producer Rick Rubin on the label American Recordings. And he was back on the charts in with the 2002 album American IV: the Man Comes Around.
He also wrote books including two autobiographies, and acted in films and television shows.
In his 1971 hit Man in Black, Cash said his black clothing symbolised the downtrodden people in the world. Cash had been The Man in Black since he joined the Grand Ole Opry at age 25.
“Everybody was wearing rhinestones, all those sparkle clothes and cowboy boots,” he said in 1986.
“I decided to wear a black shirt and pants and see if I could get by with it. I did and I’ve worn black clothes ever since.”
John Cash was born February 26, 1932, in Kingsland, Arkansas, one of seven children. When he was 12, his 14-year-old brother and hero, Jack, died after an accident while sawing oak trees into fence posts. The tragedy had a lasting impact on Cash, and he later pointed to it as a possible reason his music was frequently melancholy.
He worked as a custodian and enlisted in the Air Force, learning guitar while stationed in Germany, before launching his music career after his 1954 discharge.
“All through the Air Force, I was so lonely for those three years,” Cash said during a 1996 interview. “If I couldn’t have sung all those old country songs, I don’t think I could have made it.”