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Surviving Racism, Infidelity: Meet Vivian Liberto Cash

Vivian Liberto: Meet Johnny Cash's First Wife

Vivian Liberto Cash is the first wife of country singer and songwriter, Johnny Cash. By the end of their 13-year marriage, Vivian became the subject of controversies for bringing light to the true reason for their divorce and her real ethnicity.

Get to know Johnny Cash‘s first wife and how she managed to live after he broke her heart. Read on to find out more:  

She was raised in a Catholic household

Before she was known as Vivian Liberto Cash, she was Vivian Dorraine Liberto. 

Her mother gave birth to her on April 23, 1934, in San Antonio, Texas. She was raised by her parents, Irene Robinson Liberto (1913–1979) and Thomas Peter Liberto(1905–1971), a devout Catholic.

Vivian grew up in a Catholic household alongside her brother Raymond Alvin Liberto (1932–2008). Her father’s strict way of following his religion would later take a toll on Vivian upon the ending of her marriage to Johnny Cash.

She was a dedicated homemaker

Unlike her first husband’s second spouse, June Carter, she was a full-time stay-at-home mom, away from any hint of limelight.

As a homemaker, she concentrated on raising her four children: Cindy Cash, Rosanne Cash, Kathy Cash, and Tara Cash. 

Meanwhile, her husband was busy with his booming country music career in the 50s.

Vivian Liberto and Johnny Cash started with a whirlwind long-distance romance

Vivian first crossed paths with the country music legend on July 18, 1951, during a skating tournament. She was a shy 17-year-old woman.

The first three weeks of their courtship were notably romantic before Johnny had to go away. His deployment to Germany by the US Air force didn’t stop the two from keeping the fire burning.

They sent letters to each other until they reunited from Germany. Soon enough, their private wedding ceremony took place in 1954. Their tight friends and close family members witnessed their union.

However, their whirlwind courtship and wedding ended on a sad note as Vivian filed for divorce. In 1966, the courts officially granted the divorce as she cited extramarital affairs and drug use by her spouse.

Their divorce later dragged Vivian through a controversy against the Catholic Church.

She is African American, not Italian American

When the country hitmaker was arrested in 1965 for his drug case, a newspaper released a photo of him with his then-spouse Vivian. Along with the photo comes the publicized less-known fact that she was of African American descent instead of Italian American.

The racial speculations resulted in an uproar among her husband’s fans. During this time, the couple was about to end their relationship.

Along with the public outcry came the many canceled concerts. 

White racists also made claims that the country chart-topped used the money from his music sales to buy drugs and fund his fascination for black sex workers. 

She was a victim of racism

After the publication of the couple’s rare photo, many other newspaper companies carried racist photographs and rhetorical stories featuring them. 

‘The ThunderBolt’ and The National States Rights Party’s newspaper were among the publications that made headlines about Vivian’s true racial identity. The sensationalized news stories made her receive death threats from many major racist groups like the infamous Ku Klux Klan.

Vivian was excommunicated from the Catholic Church

After the hullabaloo regarding her race, Vivian also faced issues against her religion. 

Soon after the finalization of her divorce from Johnny Cash, the Catholic Church excommunicated her. She wasn’t allowed to take communion. However, the official decision of the Church was changed after her ex-husband sent a letter to the archdiocese with all the tales of his failings as her husband. 

Vivian was soon enough welcomed back by the Catholic Church.

Vivian found love and got married again

In 1968, Vivian Liberto got married to Dick Distin. He is a police officer, and they moved in together with Vivian’s daughters after they got married. Meanwhile, the “I Walk the Line (1968)” singer found a home near Nashville.

During her second marriage, Vivian tried to fully step away from the residual spotlight of her former husband’s fame. She embraced the beauty of raising her four children with Johnny. She spent the rest of her retirement with her second husband in Ventura.

Vivian co-authored the book “I Walked the Line: My Life with Johnny”

Vivian Liberto died as an author of her first and last book called “I Walked the Line: My Life with Johnny.” Chronicling the story of her first love, this book received mixed reviews from its readers.

The book was published in 2007, two years after her death. It details the sweet beginnings, bitter betrayals, and her forgiveness of Johnny Cash’s shortcomings. Among all the details introduced by this book, her fans loved it for its truth-telling narrative, supplemented by never before published love letters.

She sharply rebuffed a 2005 Oscar-Winning film

Her book release was an answer to the film “Walk the Line (2005),” a musical/drama film chronicling Johnny Cash’s life. In the movie, Vivian was written as a difficult wife who tugged on her husband’s dreams as a country star.

The book is a memoir that clarified her side of the story. Its title was an apt reminder of Johnny Cash’s hit 1956 single. Aimed to ring a bell, the book also reminded people of the singer’s sweet promises to his first wife.

Luckily, the release of her book successfully cleared her name from her ex-spouse’s controversial film portrayal. Those people who were close to Vivian expressed their support of the woman they would describe as kind and generous. 

Vivian led a meaningful post-divorce life 

Regardless of the misfortunes brought by her marriage to Johnny Cash, Vivian remained to be a decent woman. Many noted how she walked the line with her cordial attitude towards the country star and June Carter’s marriage, the woman her then-husband was cavorting with. 

Instead of displaying the manners of a broken wife, Vivian was notably busy working for the welfare of her local community. 

She indulged in being the president of the Garden Club of San Buenaventura for three terms. Her community engagements also included volunteering at the Country Hospital, a care home for unwed mothers in LA, among other charity organizations.

Vivian Liberto and her net worth 

With zero verified reports on her net worth, it’s impossible to put an estimate amount on it today. However, numerous news reports about her lifestyle suggested that she lived in a luxurious home. 

What’s sure is that Vivian racked up a handful after the release of her book. She co-authored it and it was available on Amazon for $13.52 Paperback and $32.95 for Hardcover.

Vivian died of post-surgery complications 

Johnny Cash’s first spouse passed away on May 24, 2005. Vivian was 71 and suffered from lung cancer. Complications after her surgery took away her life while she was surrounded by her close friends, family, and her parish priest. 

Vivian Liberto left behind her second husband, four daughters, and many grandchildren. Her family conducted a memorial mass at the Sacred Heart Church in Ventura. 

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