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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - June Carter Cash, the Grammy-winning scion of one of country music's pioneering families and the wife of country giant Johnny Cash, died Thursday, May 14, 2003, 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.


A singer, songwriter, musician, actress and author, June Carter Cash performed with her husband on record and on stage, doing songs like "Jackson" and "If I Were a Carpenter," which won Grammy awards in 1967 and 1970, respectively. Their duets included "It Ain't Me Babe" in 1964 and "If I Had a Hammer" in 1972.


She was co-writer of her husband's 1963 hit "Ring of Fire," which was about falling in love with Cash. In his 1997 autobiography, Johnny Cash described how his wife stuck with him through his years of amphetamine abuse.


"June said she knew me — knew the kernel of me, deep inside, beneath the drugs and deceit and despair and anger and selfishness, and knew my loneliness," he wrote. "She said she could help me. ... If she found my pills, she flushed them down the toilet. And find them she did; she searched for them, relentlessly."


June Carter was born June 23, 1929, in Maces Spring, Va. 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.

June, the second of the three daughters of Mother Maybelle Carter of the legendary Carter Family. Her mother taught her to play autoharp (and later guitar) and in 1939, she and sisters Anita and Helen Carter were appearing on Border Radio as members of the Carter Family. 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.

When the original Carter Family retired in 1943, she sang and played rhythm guitar in the family group, mother and daughters June, Helen and Anita continued on as Mother Maybelle & the Carter Sisters, with little June playing autoharp. Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters, on various radio stations, and from 1950 onwards, for many years, they were regulars on the Grand Ole Opry.

The Carters' harmony singing still inspires artists today and Maybelle's "Carter lick" on the guitar has become one of the most influential techniques in country music.

Although not possessing the finer vocal talents of her two sisters, she did develop a flair for comedy, which she used to good effect in a character she called Aunt Polly.

In 1949, she enjoyed a country and pop hit with a duet version of "Baby It's Cold Outside" recorded with comedy duo Homer And Jethro.

For a time during the 50s, she was married to singer Carl Smith, with whom she had two daughters, Rozanna and Rebecca Carlene, who as Carlene Carter went on to a successful solo career.


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 behest of director Elia Kazan, who had seen her perform while scouting Tennessee for movie locations.


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 on stage on London, Ontario.

They toured with Elvis Presley in the mid-50s, but in the early 60s, June began to work with Johnny Cash's show, soon being joined by her mother and sisters. In 1964, her recording with Cash of "It Ain't Me Babe" made both country and pop charts and in 1967, they had a number 2 country hit with their now famous version of "Jackson".


In a 1987 Associated Press interview, June Carter Cash described her husband as "probably the most unusual, fine, unselfish person I've known."


"There's a lot of power to him," she said then. "I've seen him on shows with people with a No. 1 record or a lot of No. 1 records, but when John walks on that stage, the rest of 'em might as well leave."


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.


"There's a lot of people who I love — fans that I've known through the years — who will be glad I did it," she said about the album at the time. "And maybe some other people ... wonder what Johnny Cash's wife is really like."


In 1979, she wrote an autobiography, "Among My Klediments," and released "From the Heart," a memoir, in 1987.


June Carter Cash did occasional acting roles, including the part of Robert Duvall's mother in the 1997 film "The Apostle." With her husband, she periodically performed at Billy Graham crusades.

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, and singer Rosanne Cash is her stepdaughter.

 

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