One of the greatest voices in American music, singer/songwriter Johnny Cash, died in Nashville at 2 a.m. last Friday, at the age of 71. Battling pneumonia and stomach problems late in life, he ultimately died of complications from diabetes just four months after wife June Carter Cash passed away. He will be remembered for the gritty baritone, which created a modern white man’s interpretation of gospel singing styles, transforming country and rock music over more than five decades. The Man in Black, as he was known, often called his voice “The Gift.” By its presence, his work was suffused with honesty and world-weariness, telling both of everyman struggles and his own personal demons, including a long fought amphetamine addiction.
He wrote more than 1,500 songs, enjoyed great success in the ’50s and ’60s, when he had over 100 country hits, resurging in popularity more than once in later years. His most famous album, Folsom Prison Blues, documented his appeal as the quintessential outlaw poet in a live performance at the prison. Hits included “I Walk the Line,” “Boy Named Sue” and “Ring of Fire.”
In the early 1960s he met a 19-year-old Bob Dylan who told Cash, “Man, you are truly beautiful,” and thus began an important relationship. In later life he collaborated with Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings as The Highwaymen. Recently, Cash released four acclaimed albums for American Recordings, including his last, The Man Comes Around. He will survive in memory as a legendary artist in American history. As Kristofferson once wrote of him, “a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.”
– Steve Cotner
Thursday evening, on the set of his ABC comedy “8 Simple Rules … for Dating My Teenage Daughter,” pratfall sitcom icon John Ritter fell ill due to a previously undetected heart condition. Ritter died later that evening at Burbank, Calif.’s Providence St. Joseph Hospital. Ritter would have turned 55 this Thursday.
The son of legendary country musician Tex Ritter, Ritter became a swinging TV superstar on “Three’s Company.” With a natural talent for physical comedy, Ritter’s Jack Tripper was the ’70s link between likable leading men Rob Petrie and Joey Tribbiani. Ritter enjoyed periodic stage, screen and TV success in between his stints on hit ABC comedies, including turns in Billy Bob Thornton’s “Sling Blade,” Stephen King mini-series “It,” the first two “Problem Child” installments and as the voice of the cartoon “Clifford the Big Red Dog.” With the loss of their star, ABC has yet to make a decision on the future of its sole comedic success “8 Simple Rules.”
– Todd Weiser