Remember When Johnny Cash Gave His Final Public Performance? [Watch]
Johnny Cash was just weeks away from death and visibly frail when he took the stage for the final public performance of his lifetime on July 5, 2003, but he still had the defiant spirit that had characterized his entire career.
Cash was struggling with multiple health issues and mourning the recent death of his wife, June Carter Cash, who died on May 15, 2003. He had to be helped from his wheelchair to a chair in front of the mic for his 30-minute set at the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Va., but he still greeted the crowd with his trademark, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," grinning as the crowd cheered.
Cash accompanied himself on acoustic guitar as he always had, backed by bassist Bobby Starnes and guitarist Jerry Hensley for a set that opened with "Folsom Prison Blues" and ran through "I Walk the Line" and "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" before he addressed the audience again.
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"The spirit of June Carter overshadows me tonight with the love she had for me and the love I have for her," he told the crowd. "We connect somewhere between here and Heaven. She came down for a short visit, I guess, from Heaven, to visit with me tonight, to give me courage and inspiration, like she always has. She's never been one for me except courage and inspiration. I thank God for June Carter. I love her with all my heart."
Cash then segued into "Ring of Fire," a song June wrote about the early days of their relationship, by saying, "I would like to do a song that she wrote that she was extremely proud of."
He followed that with "Angel Band," a song June had asked Emmylou Harris to perform at her funeral, before closing with "Big River" and "Understand Your Man." Cash joked that he knew they were "making a lot of noise up here," especially his electric guitarist, whom he jokingly vowed not to allow the venue to remove from the stage.
Recalling the first time he brought electric instruments to the Carter Family Fold, Carter shared that his cousin introduced him by saying, "Well, I know that we don't allow anybody to plug in when they're here, but June said that Johnny Cash was already plugged in when she met him."
Cash died from respiratory failure that was a complication of diabetes just nine weeks after his final performance, on Sept. 12, 2003, at the age of 71.