To the world, Johnny Cash was the "Man in Black," whose songs of hard living and finding salvation surpassed genres for more than four decades. But to his sister Joanne Cash, the seemingly mythical figure of music was simply "a country boy."
The songstress has come forward in a new documentary about the beloved singer/songwriter titled "Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon." It explores his deep devotion to faith and how his love of God played a role in his life as he faced depression and a crippling drug addiction. It features never-before-heard conversations with Cash himself as he reflected on his personal journey. Cash passed away in 2003 at age 71, less than four months after his wife, June Carter Cash.
"He gave his heart to the Lord when he was 12, at our little country church," Joanne told Fox News Digital. "… But when he grew up he got away from God and got in the drug years. He [then] recommitted his life to Christ… I guess he thought, ‘If God could change me, he could change anybody.’"
Joanne Cash spoke about her late brother Johnny Cash's faith in a new documentary. (Courtesy of Joanne Cash)
"The Lord is very real in my life and was very real in Johnny’s life," she shared. "Our mother was a very strong Christian and prayed for us constantly. Johnny’s unshakable faith in God was taught to him by our brother Jack. [He] was going to be a pastor, and of course, God took him to heaven before that could happen. He was only 14. But it taught Johnny to have an unshakable faith in the Lord."
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According to Joanne, there were seven siblings among them and Johnny was "right in the middle." As a child, he had big dreams of performing at the Grand Ole Opry, the stage where country legends are born.
From left: Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash as ‘The Million Dollar Quartet’ on December 4, 1956, in Memphis, Tennessee. This was a one night jam session at Sun Studios. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
"There was something special about Johnny from the very beginning," she shared. "We would listen to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night when it came on. That was something that not only he listened to, but all of us looked forward to. He said, ‘Isn’t it great? Listen to that music. One day, you’re going to hear me on the radio.’ I kind of laughed because I was a kid. And I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘Yes, you’re going to hear me sing one day on the radio.' I didn’t believe it at the time, but I certainly believe it now."
Joanne Cash described her older brother Johnny Cash as her "protector" with big dreams of making his mark in music. (Courtesy of Joanne Cash)
Joanne described how Cash and Jack, her two older brothers, were "inseparable." All the siblings were close as they resided in Arkansas. Growing up, Cash began writing songs and poems while admiring the music of artists such as Hank Williams, Roy Acuff and Ernest Tubb, among others. Tragedy struck the family when Jack died from injuries he sustained in an accident.
"Johnny never got over that," Joanne admitted. "All of us never got over it."
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As he grew older, Joanne said Cash "was our protector" who watched over his siblings. While he appeared as a domineering presence with an unmistakable baritone voice, Joanne said there is still a misconception about his gloomy appearance.
Country singer/songwriter Johnny Cash poses for a portrait in 1957 in Memphis, Tennessee. His sister Joanne Cash said there was a special reason why her brother famously wore black. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
"I remember Johnny saying, ‘Johnny is a pretty nice guy, but Cash gets him in trouble," she chuckled. "Somebody asked him, ‘Why do you wear all black?’ He actually didn’t at all. He wore blue jeans… he loved denim. And Johnny said about his dark closet, ‘You know what? It’s just really dark in there. I’m comfortable in black. It’s dressy. [And] I decided that I would stand up for the kids… that are struggling in the black, darkness of this world.' That’s why he wore black."
Johnny Cash's wife, June Carter Cash, helped the singer face his personal demons. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)
"He wrote the song ‘Man in Black,’ which describes that completely," Joanne continued. "He’d wear it for the young and the old and the people [who] had never read the words that Jesus said. And he said, ‘I wear it for the prisoner who is long paid for his crime because he’s a victim of the times.’ If you listen to… the wording of that song, you will find out the reason he [wore] black."
Joanne said Cash became a born-again Christian in 1972 in the same church "where I had given my heart to the Lord." Joanne said she recommitted to her faith in 1970 after she faced her own struggles. Since then, she has become "free of drugs and alcohol."
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Joanne Cash said she and her brother Johnny Cash, right, faced their personal struggles, but found salvation in Christ. (Courtesy of Joanne Cash)
"I can happily say I haven’t had a drink since 1970," she said. "Not any of those drugs."
Early in his career, Cash took massive quantities of pills to deal with the rigors of touring and other personal demons, Reuters reported. While he cleaned up with June’s guidance, the star relapsed towards the end of the ‘70s. His son, John Carter Cash, described how the patriarch faced near-death experiences, rehab stints and interventions in his 2007 book "Anchored in Love: The Life and Legacy of June Carter Cash."
"He, like all of us, was not perfect," said Joanne about her beloved brother. "We are not perfect. That’s why we need a Savior. Johnny knew he wasn’t perfect… He fell. He went into the dark side. And in the drug years, he almost lost his life… But God showed him some sort of a light. And I believe that was the Lord. It was the Holy Spirit leading him out of that darkness. And it changed his life… That’s why… he gave his heart back to the Lord and emerged from that darkness… I want people to know that as long as there is life and breath, there is hope."
Minister Billy Graham, left, making an appearance on "The Johnny Cash Show," circa 1971. The pair remained close until Cash's death. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)
In the ‘70s, minister Billy Graham learned of Cash’s renewed faith and invited him to be part of his Crusade events. The two developed a close-knit friendship that lasted until Cash’s death.
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Today, Joanne wants people to remember her brother for not only his undeniable musical talent, but also his determination to find salvation in Christ. She said this new film chronicling his journey is "the best documentary I have ever seen."
"Your dreams can come true and then you [also can fall] away and get… to death’s door," said Joanne. "[But] through the Lord Jesus Christ, there is hope… Even if you’re at your very lowest point. And Johnny proved that."
"Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon" is playing exclusively in theaters Dec. 5-7.
Stephanie Nolasco covers entertainment at Foxnews.com.