By Tony Carnes
Billy Graham and Johnny Cash were the best of friends, mutual confessors, and fishing buddies. Their wives, Ruth Bell and June Carter, were prayer partners. The two men could sit for hours in the same room without saying a word—Billy working on a book and Johnny on his songs. Once in a while, Johnny would interrupt and try out a song on Billy or ask a question about the Bible. At mealtimes, the families would gather to pray, sing, and eat. Usually the subject moved quickly to family and friends, problems and challenges. Johnny always had a list of friends he wanted Billy to call, while Billy would ask Johnny for advice and prayer for his loved ones.
Billy and Johnny had a superficial connection based on their roots in the hardscrabble rural South. They grew up around Baptist churches and barns. Barbecue, cornbread, and pork and beans would set their mouths watering.
On a deeper level, though, their backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. “Johnny came from the wild side, while Billy had never been through that phase. Billy walked the straight and narrow,” observes [Steve] Turner.
Even after his return to faith in 1967, Johnny’s life was pretty bumpy with what he called his “goof-ups.” And when he slipped back into amphetamine usage, he could get out of control. Johnny also felt let down by some of the ministries that he had latched on to for help. Turner says Johnny felt that “some failed him, some exploited him.”
So it was Billy’s faithfulness and integrity that Johnny gravitated toward. Billy was constant through the years, both in his personal relationship with Johnny and in his theology. Billy didn’t seem to go off on theological tangents at the drop of a dime. “Billy was a beacon to Cash who didn’t change,” says Turner. “Billy remained a stable character.”
When Johnny fell off the wagon, he likely didn’t confide that to Billy, though June may well have shared it with Ruth. The two wives constantly prayed with each other over their husbands and children. Johnny told Turner that in 1977 he was embarrassed that Billy would talk about the biography of the apostle Paul that Johnny was writing, because he was too stoned to even write. In the 1980s, there was a tabloid uproar over claims that Johnny was having an affair and too stoned to appear at two Graham crusades. Johnny denied the drug usage and said no one could separate him and June. However, Johnny checked into a drug rehabilitation program.
Whether Billy knew all the details of Johnny’s “goof-ups,” his response to Johnny was as a loving friend, loyal through thick and thin. “Daddy stayed his friend, that’s all,” Franklin says. Johnny’s faith didn’t change, but his closeness to God did. “Johnny never had problems with his faith, but he had problems with his life,” Franklin observes. Billy continued to invite Johnny to his crusades and, after Johnny got clean from drugs, encouraged him to finally finish his book on Paul, Man in White, in 1986.
When Johnny and Billy were together, it was like two brothers picking cotton together—one pretty steady and the other occasionally cutting up.
Read entire Christianity Today article HERE.