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June Carter Cash Dies

Country music legend was seventy-three

May 16, 2003 12:00 AM ET

June Carter Cash, daughter of Mother Maybelle Carter and wife of Johnny Cash, died just after six o'clock last night in Nashville; she was seventy-three. Carter Cash had been in critical condition since undergoing surgery to replace a heart valve on May 7th.

Valerie June Carter was born June 29th, 1929, in Maces Spring, Virginia, into the most important group in country music history, the Carter Family. Her mother, Maybelle Carter, sang and played guitar with cousins Sara and A.P. and other family members, putting her indelible stamp on folk tunes like "May the Circle Be Unbroken" and "The Wabash Cannonball." June was playing with the group by 1939.

Still, Carter Cash is best known for her love for her husband and its testimonial "Ring of Fire," a song she wrote about him that ranks among his best-known recordings. She wrote the song in 1963 with Merle Kilgore; at the time, Carter and Cash were both involved with other people.

"I never talked much about how I fell in love with John," Carter Cash told Rolling Stone in 2000. "It was not a convenient time for me to fall in love with him, and it wasn't a convenient time for him to fall in love with me. One morning, about four o'clock, I was driving my car just about as fast as I could. I thought, 'Why am I out on the highway this time of night? I was miserable, and it all came to me: 'I'm falling in love with somebody I have no right to fall in love with.' I was frightened of his way of life. I thought, 'I can't fall in love with this man, but it's just like a ring of fire.'"

At that point, Johnny Cash told Rolling Stone, "We hadn't said, 'I love you.' We were afraid to say it, because we knew what was going to happen: that eventually we were both going to be divorced, and we were going to go through hell. Which we did."

The two were married in 1968.

As well as scoring hits with her husband on duets like "If I Were a Carpenter" and "Jackson," Carter Cash also had a successful solo career. Her acoustic, autobiographical 1999 album Press On earned her a Grammy. She had recently finished work on another new set, Wildwood Flower, which is scheduled for release on August 5th.

In 2000, Johnny Cash, who has suffered health problems of his own over the past five years, told Rolling Stone that Carter Cash had "saved my life more than once . . . There's unconditional love there. She's always been there with her love, and it has certainly made me forget the pain for a long, long time, many times. When it gets dark, and everybody's gone home and the lights are turned off, it's just me and her."

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