Johnny Cash’s sister says the ‘Man in Black’ gave ‘his heart back’ to God before his death: ‘There is hope’

To the world, Johnny Cash was the “Man in Black,” whose songs of hard life and finding salvation transcended genres for more than four decades. But to his sister Joanne Cash, the seemingly mythical figure of music was simply “a country boy”.

The singer has emerged in a new documentary about the beloved singer/songwriter titled “Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon.” It explores his deep commitment to faith and how his love for God played a role in his life as he faced depression and a crippling drug addiction. It features never-before-heard conversations with Cash himself as he reflects on his personal journey. Cash died in 2003 at the age of 71, less than four months after his wife, June Carter Cash.

“He gave his heart to the Lord when he was 12, at our little country church,” Joanne told Fox News Digital. “… But when he grew up, he got away from God and got into the drug years [then] recommitted his life to Christ… I think he thought, ‘If God could change me, he can change anyone.’

Joanne Cash has spoken about her late brother Johnny Cash's faith in a new documentary.

Joanne Cash has spoken about her late brother Johnny Cash’s faith in a new documentary.
(Courtesy of Joanne Cash)

“The Lord is very real in my life and was very real in Johnny’s life,” she shared. “Our mother was a very strong Christian and constantly prayed for us. Johnny’s unwavering faith in God was taught to him by our brother Jack. [He] was going to become a pastor, and of course God took him to heaven before that could happen. He was only 14. But it taught Johnny to have an unwavering faith in the Lord.”

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According to Joanne, there were seven siblings among them and Johnny was “right in the middle.” As a child, he had big dreams of performing at the Grand Ole Opry, the stage where country legends are born.

From left: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash as 'The Million Dollar Quartet' on December 4, 1956 in Memphis, Tennessee.  It was a one-night jam session at Sun Studios.

From left: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash as ‘The Million Dollar Quartet’ on December 4, 1956 in Memphis, Tennessee. It was a one-night jam session at Sun Studios.
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

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“There was something special about Johnny from the beginning,” she shared. “We would listen to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night when it came on. It was something that not only he listened to, but we all looked forward to. He said, ‘Isn’t that great? Listen to that music. One day are you going to hear me on the radio?’ I kind of laughed because I was a kid. And I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘Yes, you’re going to hear me sing on the radio one day.’ I didn’t believe it then, but I certainly do now.”

Joanne Cash described her older brother Johnny Cash as her "protector" with big dreams of making his mark in music.

Joanne Cash described her older brother Johnny Cash as her “protector” with big dreams of making his mark in music.
(Courtesy of Joanne Cash)

Joanne described how Cash and Jack, her two older brothers, were “inseparable”. All the siblings were close when they lived in Arkansas. Cash began writing songs and poems while admiring the music of artists such as Hank Williams, Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb, among others. Tragedy struck the family when Jack died from injuries sustained in an accident.

“Johnny never got over it,” Joanne admitted. “All of us never got over it.”

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As he got older, Joanne said Cash “was our protector” watching over his siblings. While he came across as a commanding presence with an unmistakable baritone voice, Joanne said there was still a misconception about his gloomy appearance.

Country singer/songwriter Johnny Cash poses for a portrait in 1957 in Memphis, Tennessee.  His sister Joanne Cash said there was a special reason her brother so famously wore black.

Country singer/songwriter Johnny Cash poses for a portrait in 1957 in Memphis, Tennessee. His sister Joanne Cash said there was a special reason her brother so famously wore black.
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“I remember Johnny saying, ‘Johnny’s a pretty nice guy, but Cash gets him in trouble,'” she laughed. “Someone asked him, ‘Why do you wear all black?’ Actually, he didn’t at all. He wore blue jeans… he loved denim. And Johnny said about his dark closet, “You know what? It’s just very dark there. I’m comfortable in black. It is attractive. [And] I decided that I will stand up for the children… who are struggling in the black, darkness of this world.’ That’s why he wore black.”

“He wrote the song ‘Man in Black,’ which describes it completely,” Joanne continued. “He would wear it for the young and the old and the people [who] have never read the words that Jesus said. And he said: ‘I bear it for the prisoner who is long paid for his crime, for he is a victim of the times.’ If you listen to… the lyrics to that song, you’ll find out why he [wore] black.”

Joanne said Cash became a born-again Christian in 1972 at the same church “where I gave my heart to the Lord.” Joanne said she recommitted to her faith in 1970 after facing her own struggles. Since then she has become “drug and alcohol free”.

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Joanne Cash said she and her brother Johnny Cash, right, faced personal struggles but found salvation in Christ.

Joanne Cash said she and her brother Johnny Cash, right, faced personal struggles but found salvation in Christ.
(Courtesy of Joanne Cash)

“I can happily say I haven’t had a drink since 1970,” she said. “Not any of those drugs.”

Early in his career, Cash took massive amounts of pills to deal with the rigors of touring and other personal demons, Reuters reported. While cleaning up with June’s guidance, the star regressed towards the end of the ’70s. His son, John Carter Cash, described in his 2007 book “Anchored in Love: The Life and Legacy of June Carter Cash” how the patriarch faced near-death experiences, rehabilitation efforts and interventions.

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“He, like all of us, was not perfect,” Joanne said of her beloved brother. “We’re not perfect. That’s why we need a Savior. Johnny knew he wasn’t perfect… He fell. He went into the dark side. And in the drug years, he almost lost his life. .. But God kind of gave him a light. And I believe it was the Lord. It was the Holy Spirit that led him out of that darkness. And it changed his life… That’s why… he gave his heart back to the Lord and emerged from that darkness… I want people to know that as long as there is life and breath, there is hope.”

Minister Billy Graham, left, makes an appearance "The Johnny Cash Show," circa 1971. The couple remained close until Cash's death.

Minister Billy Graham, left, made an appearance on “The Johnny Cash Show,” circa 1971. The two remained close until Cash’s death.
(Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

In the 70s, minister Billy Graham learned of Cash’s renewed faith and invited him to be part of his Crusade events. The two developed a close friendship that lasted until Cash’s death.

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Today, Joanne wants people to remember her brother for not only his undeniable musical talent, but also his determination to find salvation in Christ. She said this new film chronicling his journey is “the best documentary I’ve ever seen.”

“Your dreams can come true and then you [also can fall] away and come … to death’s door,” says Joanne.[But] through the Lord Jesus Christ, there is hope… Even if you are at your lowest point. And Johnny proved it.”

“Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon” plays exclusively in theaters December 5-7.

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