The Definitive Johnny Cash Biography Arrives

It’s been a long, fascinating odyssey for L.A. Times reporter-turned-author Robert Hilburn. From being the only journalist at Johnny Cash’s celebrated 1968 Folsom Prison performance to the release today of the new biography Johnny Cash: The Life.

Hilburn recently explained to his former paper that the spark for the book came in the wake of the 2005 movie Walk the Line and several quickie books following the singer’s death in 2003. He went to Cash’s manager Lou Robin and asked what percentage of the Cash story was still left to be told. Robin’s astounding reply: 80%.

Today on NPR’s Morning Edition, Hilburn talked about one of the more shocking components of that 80% – Cash’s affair with one of June Carter‘s sisters:

“That’s something that haunted me. I first heard that when I was doing the research to write the proposal on the book, and it stunned me.”

“The fact that June discovered, while she was pregnant with their first son, that Johnny is having an affair with her sister. And I could get nobody to say on the record that it happened; but several people off the record said it. So in the book I have to say that it’s speculation that it happened. But I’m certain that it happened.”

Hilburn acknowledges that some readers may like Cash less after they read the new book. In that regard, Johnny Cash: The Life is similar to Henry Bushkin’s recent tome Johnny Carson.

The author will be making all sorts of appearances in the coming weeks, but tonight’s Writer’s Bloc event in Santa Monica will be hard to beat. The sold-out chat will feature Hilburn being interviewed by Kris Kristofferson. Excerpts from Johnny Cash: The Life can be found at

Jacket cover courtesy: Little, Brown & Company