Music | Retro | Celebrity

He Lost A Fight With An Ostrich, Plus 14 Other Wild Facts About Johnny Cash


The late, great "Man in Black" is no longer with us, but his legacy casts a long shadow on country music to this day.

It turns out that the Cash's life was as rich, strange, and beautiful as his music. Here are 15 interesting facts about country music's original bad boy:

1. He picked his name himself

"Johnny Cash" is about as fake a name as you can come up with, but in fact it's the singer's real name. His father, Ray Cash, wanted to name his son Ray, while Cash's mother, Carrie, wanted to name him Rivers, which was her maiden name. The couple settled on J.R. as a compromise, and those initials were Cash's only name for 18 years.

Cash as a young man.Ranker

When he enlisted for the Air Force, the officer wouldn't let Cash go by J.R., so he christened himself John R. Cash, and the rest is history.

2. His brother's death had a huge impact on his life

Cash was remembered as a cheerful young boy who liked to joke around, but he became serious after his older brother Jack died. Jack was religious, and very protective of his brothers. He was injured in a table saw accident, and spent a week in serious pain before he died.

Jack Cash with Johnny.Rolling Stone

Cash dug his brother's grave himself, and began writing and sketching soon after his death. Later in life, Cash was said to often ask himself "What would Jack do?"

3. He broke the news of Joseph Stalin's death

During his time in the Air Force, Cash worked as a radio operator. His keen sense of hearing and his skill with Morse code made him an asset, and he landed a job intercepting radio messages in West Germany.

Cash, during his time in the Air Force.Ranker

He was at his post in 1953 when news of the Soviet dictator's death was announced, making Cash the first American to learn about the historic event.

4. His iconic scar was from a botched surgery

Albany Poets

Cash is famous for the striking scar on the right side of his face. He received it during a surgery to remove a cyst while he was in the Air Force. Cash claims that his doctor was drunk, and botched the operation.

5. He once performed with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins

The "Million Dollar Quartet."Wikimedia

The four iconic musicians got together for a jam session at the Sun Records studios in Memphis on December 4, 1956. The recording session was later called "The Million Dollar Quartet," and the special night even inspired a Broadway musical with the same name.

6. He used a special trick to make "I Walk the Line" sound just right

As Cash explains in this clip, to imitate the sound of a snare drum while playing without a drummer, he slid a piece of paper underneath the strings of his guitar. Pretty clever.

7. He wasn't just a musician

Cash didn't just write songs, throughout his life he also penned short stories and poetry. He wrote a pair of autobiographies - Cash and Man in Black - and even a novel called Man in White.

The book follows the apostle Paul through the story of his conversion to Christianity, and it also parallels Cash's recovery from drug addiction. The book wasn't a big hit, but it was one of Cash's proudest accomplishments.

Cash also did a little acting, but let's just say he was a better musician than actor.

8. He was arrested seven times

Cash was a real live wire in the '60s, when he was battling an addiction to prescription drugs. He was once caught sneaking into El Paso from Mexico, carrying more than 1,100 pills in his luggage. Somehow, Cah got away with just a suspended sentence.

One of Cash's mugshots.Rolling Stone

Another one of Cash's arrests, in Starkville, Mississippi, was for picking flowers. The singer was drunk and went flower picking on somebody else's property at 2 a.m. He was put in jail for trespassing, where he kicked a wall so hard he broke his toe. Sounds like a rough night, but it inspired a pretty great song.

Starkville holds an annual Flower Picking Festival in the singer's honor, and they even pardoned him for the offense in 2007.

9. Shel Silverstein wrote one of his biggest hits

"A Boy Named Sue" was Cash's biggest hit ever on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But not many people realize it was written by Shel Silverstein, best-known for his poetry collection Where the Sidewalk Ends. It was inspired by Silverstein's friend Jean Shepherd, who was picked on for his "girly" name, just like Sue.

10. He escaped a beating by performing in a jail cell

Rolling Stone

In his autobiography, Cash describes a night he spent locked up with a lumberjack in a Carson City jail. The man was angry, violent, and refused to believe that Cash was really the famous country singer. Cash had to sing gospel songs and his own hits until the man finally fell asleep.

11. He wore black for a special reason

The real reason why Johnny Cash first wore black on stage is that his backup band, the Tennessee Two, wanted to wear matching outfits. Since the only clothing they all owned was black shirts, that's what they picked.

But the outfit also had a special significance for Cash, which he reveals in this famous clip:

12. He was sued by the U.S. government for causing a forest fire

In his wild and crazy days, Cash toured the country in a camper he named Jesse James. One night, he drove Jesse into the Los Padres National Wildlife Refuge, where he got high. Cash didn't realize that Jesse was leaking oil until the camper caught fire.


A huge fire started, almost wiping out the refuge's population of endangered condors. When asked why he did it, Cash told the judge "I didn't do it, my truck did, and it's dead, so you can't question it." And he had this to say about the condors: "I don't care about your damn yellow buzzards."

Cash says that he was the first person ever sued by the government over a forest fire.

13. He released a real stinker, and tried to get it taken out of stores

In the '80s, Columbia records convinced Cash to record a comedy song called "Chicken in Black," about his brain being transplanted into a chicken. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but Cash's friends convinced him he looked "like a buffoon."

Cash made the studio stop airing the song's music video, and had the record pulled from store shelves. Despite his reaction, the song was actually on its way to becoming a hit.

14. He lost a fight with an ostrich

Animal Fact Guide

Cash's recording studio had an exotic animal park attached to it, and one of the animals living there was an ostrich named Waldo. Cash was visiting with Waldo one day when the ornery bird kicked him, breaking five ribs and causing internal bleeding.

15. He wrecked a few hotels in his career

In the '50s and '60s, letting Johnny Cash and his band stay in your hotel was a risky business. He once bought 500 baby chickens, and released 100 on each floor of his hotel. He also destroyed a hotel's plumbing by flushing cherry bombs down the toilet.

Frank Driggs

Strangest of all, Cash stabbed a recreation of the Mona Lisa hanging in one hotel, supposedly because it didn't look as good as the real thing.

Share this list if you love Johnny Cash!

I write about all sorts of things for Shared, especially weird facts, celebrity news, and viral stories.