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Johnny Cash and Billy Graham. (Photo: Billy Graham Archive)

New book delves into the faith of Johnny Cash

Guitars, fiddles and heartbreaking songs take center stage this fall as “Country Music”, the new documentary series from acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns, airs on PBS. The man in black, Johnny Cash, is central to the story.

More than a decade after his death, Cash remains a sinner to some and a saint to others but fascinating to everyone.

Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship Church in Riverside, Calif., writes about the highs and lows in a new book, “Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon”.

“(Cash]) has this bad-boy image, this outlaw image, and that was true, but yet deep down inside, Johnny was a very committed follower of Jesus Christ,” Laurie told Fox News. “He was raised in a Christian home. He had lapses in his faith. He returned to it. He fell again. He got on his feet again. He fell again. But I think it was really the intervention of June Carter Cash that probably saved his life, and it was her strong faith in God, and… that God came through this time of addiction that he struggled with.”

Laurie sorts out the man from the legend that grew up around him. Early in his career, Cash allegedly took up to 100 pills a day to fight off fatigue during tours. He was arrested in El Paso, Texas, in 1965 as he tried to smuggle amphetamines across the border from Mexico. His life began to change after he divorced his first wife, Vivian, and married fellow country singer June Carter.

“Johnny would be the first to admit that he failed in his first marriage to Vivian,” Laurie said. “He was not a good husband or a good father. He was on the road a lot. He had a lot of issues back then, and that ended in divorce. And then June Carter came into his life, and she became his beloved wife and probably saved his life because of her firm faith in Christ and her unwillingness to let Johnny completely destroy himself. Johnny had to ultimately go to rehab to get his life cleaned up, which he did.”

A pastor convinced him to get involved in church.

“Johnny came under what we would call the conviction of the Holy Spirit, which simply means that he realized he needed to really get right with God,” Laurie said. “And he went forward with the invitation of the pastor. He got down on his knees with his family, and he prayed and he asked God to forgive him of his sins. That recommitment was something that carried Johnny right through to the end of his life.”

Just as in any good country song, Cash still had his ups and downs, but he persevered until the end.

“It’s a story of a man who’s struggled, a man who stumbled, a man who fell, but a man who acknowledged it,” Laurie said. “Johnny was an honest man. He was an authentic man… But what I want people to take away from reading this book is no matter how badly you’ve messed up in life, God gives second chances. And no matter how many mistakes you’ve made, you can get up and start over again. Johnny Cash did that. And if Johnny could do it, anyone can do it.”

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice