Johnny Cash on Overcoming Addiction: ‘Give God’s Temple Back to Him’
By Movieguide® Staff
Note: This story is part of our Faith in Hollywood series. For similar stories, click here.
Music icon Johnny Cash, known for songs such as “Ring of Fire,” “Walk the Line,” “Cry Cry Cry,” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” is candid about how God helped him overcome a years-long battle with drug addiction.
“I wasn’t sure why I’d been arrested. I figured it had something to do with the pills. Once before the pills had put me behind bars, but that time I was lucky,” Cash wrote in an article from 1970. “That was in 1965. I had gone into Mexico to get a supply of the pills I felt I needed to stay alive. As I was re-entering at El Paso, the customs inspector found the pills.
“That time, I spent a day in jail. Because it was my first arrest, the judge let me off with a year’s suspended sentence. There was a newspaper reporter in the courtroom; his story went out on the wires, and that’s how people found out I was an addict,” Cash continued. “A lot of people already knew. By then, I had been on pills five years. I took pep pills to turn me on enough to do a show. Then I took depressants to calm down enough to get some sleep.
“That, at least, was what my friends said. They said I was working too hard and traveling too much and trying to squeeze too much out of every day. They said maybe I should take some time off,” Cash said.
Cash confessed that his addiction was not because of his busy schedule but because he found satisfaction in the drugs.
“Then I began to realize that the highs were getting lower. The few pills I was on every day weren’t enough anymore. I had to go from a few to several, then to dozens. Still that old feeling wasn’t there. I was always nervous and tense and irritable. I didn’t want to eat. I couldn’t sleep. I started losing weight,” he added. “So I went on depressants, looking for lows, looking for peace. When I found peace, I couldn’t trust it because I knew it was a fleeting peace. Soon I would crave to get high, and the highs would not come to me.”
Cash revealed that he lied to protect his addiction and often had to take off time from work because the drugs made him sick.
“I knew I was killing myself. I had seen drugs kill others. Whatever drug an addict is hooked on, he has to keep increasing his daily dosage to feel anywhere near normal. This is the nature of addiction. The day comes when he takes the overdose that kills him,” Cash said.
Cash said that he had accepted an early death, so long as he did not have to give up the drug-induced highs and lows.
“By 1967, I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and I knew it. I was usually on a hundred pills a day, but I got no pleasure from them, no peace. I couldn’t stand my life, but I couldn’t find my way out of it,” he said.
While Cash grew up in a home of faith, it took a conversation with an old jailer to remind him of God’s word.
“I was staring at a ceiling and an elderly jailer was asking me if I felt better. I got up. He unlocked the door. I asked, ‘How did I get here?’ He said, ‘One of the night men found you stumbling around the streets. He brought you in so you wouldn’t hurt yourself,’” Cash recalled.
“I followed him down a corridor and into his office, and I asked, ‘How much time do you think I’ll get for this?’ He shook his head. ‘You’re doing time right now, Johnny, the worst kind.’ He handed me an envelope. ‘Here are your things.’ As I was putting things into my pockets, he said, ‘I’m a fan of yours, Johnny. I’ve always admired you. It’s a shame to see you ruining yourself. I didn’t know you were this bad off,’” he continued. “I’d heard that sad song before, from concerned friends. He said, ‘I don’t know where you think you got your talent from, Johnny, but if you think it came from God, then you’re sure wrecking the body He put it in.’”
Cash said that the mention of God stirred in him a life-changing realization about his fight with addiction.
“Maybe it was the reference to God that suddenly cleared my mind. I had been raised by religious parents; faith had always meant a lot to me; I have tried to express it in some of my songs. But until that morning it hadn’t occurred to me to turn to God for help in kicking my habit,” Cash said. “I remembered this: ‘Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?’ (I Corinthians 6:19). This helped convince me that I must try to break my habit. But how?”
“I asked Him to go to work on me, then and there,” he added.
Through prayer, Cash overcame his addiction and shared his testimony with others struggling with drugs.
“We prayed a lot. I am a free man now, as I have been since that morning when I discovered that I could be once again,” Cash said. “Because of the kind of work I do, it is difficult to sweep past mistakes under the rug. Every once in a while, I meet some youngster who knows I used to be an addict, as he is now, and he asks me what he can do to kick his habit. I tell him what I learned, ‘Give God’s temple back to Him. The alternative is death.’”