June Carter Cash, the Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, musician, actress and author and wife of country music legend Johnny Cash, died Thursday in Nashville of complications from heart surgery. She was 73.
She died at a hospital, with her husband of 35 years and family members at her bedside, manager Lou Robin said. She had been critically ill after May 7 surgery to replace a heart valve.
She often performed with her husband on records and onstage, doing songs like “Jackson” and “If I Were a Carpenter,” which won Grammys in 1967 and 1970, respectively. Their duets included “It Ain’t Me Babe” in 1964 and “If I Had a Hammer” in 1972.
June Carter Cash came from one of country music’s pioneering families.
She was co-writer of her husband’s 1963 hit “Ring of Fire,” which was about falling in love with Cash.
The Maces Spring, Va., native came from one of country music’s pioneering families. Her mother, Maybelle Carter, was in the Carter Family music act with her cousin, Sara Carter, and Sara’s husband, A.P. Carter. In 1927, they made what are among the first country music recordings.
The family act broke up, but mother and daughters June, Helen and Anita continued on as Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters, with little June playing autoharp.
Starting in 1939, the sisters starred in a radio show on XERA in Del Rio, Texas, that could be heard as far away as Saskatchewan, Canada. The Carters went on to become staples of the Grand Ole Opry country music show in Nashville.
In the late 1950s, after her marriage to country singer Carl Smith broke up, June Carter moved to New York to study acting at the invitation of Elia Kazan, who had seen her perform while scouting Tennessee for movie locations.
She acted on soaps in the 1960s and went on to do occasional film roles, including the part of Robert Duvall’s mother in the 1997 film “The Apostle,” but music remained her passion. In 1961, she turned down an offer to work on a variety show that had Woody Allen as one of the writers, agreeing instead to tour with Johnny Cash for $500 a week. They married in 1968 after he proposed to her onstage on London, Ontario.
In 1979, she wrote an autobiography, “Among My Klediments,” and released “From the Heart,” a memoir, in 1987.
In 1999, she released an acoustic album, “Press On,” that amounted to a musical autobiography and won her another Grammy. The album, her first in a quarter-century, followed her career from its beginning through her then-31-year marriage and collaboration with Cash.
Johnny and June Carter Cash had a son, John Carter Cash, in 1970. She was also the mother of country singer Carlene Carter, whose father was Smith; singer Rosanne Cash is her stepdaughter.