Here is Johnny Cash performing at 71 years old. It was his last live performance. The show took place at The Carter Ranch in Hiltons, VA in July of 2003. It was completely unannounced. Cash showed up to a crowd of about 700 country fans who came for the weekly country music show. He arrived in a wheelchair, but there was no ramp so he had to be carried on stage. Two men sat him down on the stage and handed him a guitar. “Hi, I’m Johnny Cash,” he said. He knew he didn’t need to introduce himself, but this is how he started his shows.
At the time of the show, he had nerve damage that was getting progressively worse and laryngitis that caused a hoarseness in his voice that he apologized for. The crowd didn’t mind. Here he is performing “Understand Your Man,” a song he hadn’t done in over 25 years.
The performance took place just a couple of months after Johnny’s wife, June Carter, died. In the clip below, Johnny shares his pain, as he often did in his later years. It’s one of the things (along with Rick Rubin) that made Johnny’s popularity rise during his older age. This tough guy, rock star character got old, and with his age he got vulnerable. But instead of trying to cover it up, instead of even attempting to mask it, Johnny accepted it; he embraced it. In some ways, it was a sad thing to watch, but it was also incredibly human.
Johnny died in September of 2003, just a couple months after this final performance.
Below, check out a 23-year-old Cash playing “Walk The Line”