"I'd have given anything to hear Johnny say (he was sorry)," said Vivian Liberto. But he never did.
Before the dreamy romance between Johnny Cash and June Carter took centerstage, before their chemistry became so strong that even fans could not look past it, and before Cash and Carter became the king and queen of country music with an enthralling love story to their names, there was another woman in Cash's life.
After Cash's second marriage to Carter, his first wife, Vivian Liberto was pushed so far into the sidelines that people barely remember her ever being in the picture. But she was the one who suffered after Cash's famous love affair.
Liberto later admitted that she never stopped loving Cash. Even after their marriage came to an end, she watched from afar as her husband lived out the rest of his years with Carter after they married in 1968. In her memoir, I Walked The Line: My Life with Johnny, Liberto revealed that she would often wonder what life would have been like if Carter never became entwined with her husband's life, according to VC Star.
The 13-year-marriage between Cash and Liberto began in 1954. They, too, had a heartwarming love story to tell their four daughters, Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy, and Tara. The daughters were told about how Cash and Liberto met at a skating rink and they even had the 1,000 love letters that Cash and Liberto sent each other as they were falling in love. Cash was in Germany at the time when the two exchanged the letters, according to the documentary, My Darling Vivian, as reported by Rolling Stone. "My Darling Vivian" was one of the ways Cash began his letters to her.
As their relationship progressed, Liberto one day opened a letter from Cash that included an engagement ring and soon enough, they became husband and wife.
When Cash became famous and began going on tours, Vivian onced asked him if the woman he met along the way ever tempted him to sway. But he assured her that there was nothing to worry about and said, "I walk the line for you," according to her memoir, as reported by VC Star.
Those words led to him writing his famous hit song, I Walk the Line while they were in a car. Cash was driving and Vivian wrote down the lyrics.
Along with his growing fame, Cash's addiction to alcohol and pills started growing as well. "All of the things that Johnny had called filthy and dirty' (his actual words from the love letters) and had insisted would destroy our lives were things he began to embrace," Vivian wrote in her memoir.
During their marriage, Vivian "always seeming worried and staying up late, but she never let us see her pain," recalled one of their daughters, Cindy, who went on to say, "Pills kind of led Dad into a very destructive period in his life, and Mom unfortunately paid the price."
Their turbulent marriage became worse when Carter became a more regular presence in Cash's life. When Vivian initially met Carter, she thought, "this woman was a danger to my family" and she was unsure of when her husband started having an affair with her.
Vivian watched her husband love somebody outside their marriage, and it was a "degrading, horrible experience." What she regretted even as she wrote her 2007 memoir was not fighting for Cash to stay.
She wished she pulled out those love letters they wrote when they were younger and went over them with Cash. "I should have been relentless at saving it, as relentless as June was at destroying it," Vivian wrote. Their oldest daughter, Rosanne said about the crumbling of her parents' marriage, "It seemed inevitable, though it was so painful for my mom."
According to People, Liberto eventually filed for divorce and Cash later went on to marry Carter. Liberto also remarried Ventura police officer, Dick Distin.
Years later, Liberto decided to write her memoir and one of the things she wanted to tell people through it was that Carter was the one who went after Cash and not the other way around. "She wanted people to know June went after Johnny. That was where most of her pain and anger rested all these years," said Ann Sharpsteen, who wrote the memoir with Liberto, as reported by VC Star.
Liberto even wrote about a heated exchange that she once had with Carter. "Vivian, he will be mine," she quoted Carter telling her. However, ultimately, Liberto was said to have forgiven Carter.
There was one thing Liberto wished for: "I'd have given anything to hear Johnny say (he was sorry)," she wrote.
In 2003, after Carter's death, Liberto paid Cash a visit. By then, he was in a wheelchair and living in Tennessee, according to Rolling Stone. When Liberto told Cash that she was planning to write a book about their relationship, he reportedly told her, "Of all the people on the planet that should tell their story, I think it should be you."
Cash passed away the same year Carter died. And in 2005, Liberto passed away from complications that arose from lung cancer surgery. Although she finished the manuscript by then, she was not around to see the book be finally released in 2007.