The wife of legendary country musician Johnny Cash and a respected artist in her own right, June Carter Cash proved to be not only a pivotal figure in country music history but also a woman of many diverse talents. Born Valerie June Carter in Maces Springs, VA, the future starlet's mother was none other than Carter Family matriarch Maybelle Carter. As fate would have it, young Carter Cash took an immediate shine to the Autoharp when her mother began teaching her to play at an early age. Although the Carter Family would eventually disband, Maybelle would team with daughters June (on the Autoharp), Helen, and Anita in the late '50s to form the popular country quartet Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. A natural beauty who possessed a razor sharp wit, Carter Cash soon became popular for spicing up the live performances with comedy routines and monologues. Married to first husband Carl Smith in 1952, the couple performed together at the Grand Ole Opry and had a daughter, Rebecca (who later recorded under the name Carlene Carter), before separating later in the decade. Subsequently managed by Colonel Tom Parker and touring with Elvis Presley, Carter Cash embarked on a brief marriage to Nashville police officer Rip Nix (with whom she had another daughter) before deciding to try her luck with acting. Heading to New York to study under the tutelage of Elia Kazan (who had previously been spellbound by her live performance while scouting locations in Tennessee), the youthful country starlet was soon appearing in such television series as Gunsmoke and The Adventures of Jim Bowie in the '50s, and later had a recurring role in Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman during the '90s. In addition to appearances on the long-running TV soap operas The Secret Storm and The Edge of Night, Carter Cash's feature roles included Country Music Holiday (1958), The Gospel Road (1973), and That's Country (1977). In 1997, she essayed the role of a southern preacher's mother in Robert Duvall's The Apostle.
Turning down an offer to appear on a variety show in favor of touring with Johnny Cash in 1961, their relationship soon blossomed into more than a professional one, and, in 1968, Johnny proposed to June on-stage in London, Ontario. Much more than just a wife to the country legend, the duo frequently toured together and June co-wrote (with Merle Kilgore) Cash's hit "Ring of Fire" (reportedly about her falling in love with him), and helped him write such enduring songs as, "Long-Legged Guitar Pickin' Man," and "Jackson" (which earned the duo a Grammy). Johnny Cash also frequently credited his wife as a key figure in helping him to shake drug addiction and pull his life together. As a solo artist, Carter Cash released the albums Press On (A 1999 Grammy winner for Best Traditional Folk Album) and Wildwood Flower (2003). Two months after its release, June Carter Cash died suddenly on May 15, 2003, in Nashville as a result of complications from heart surgery. She was 73.