Vivian Liberto

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Vivian Liberto
Born Template:Birth date
San Antonio, Texas, USA
Died Template:Death date and age
Ventura, California, USA
Nationality American
Known for First wife of Johnny Cash
Mother of Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy and Tara Cash.

Vivian Dorraine Liberto Cash Distin (April 23, 1934 – May 24, 2005) was an American homemaker who was the first wife of country singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, and the mother of singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash.

During their courtship, Cash and Liberto wrote each other over 10,000 pages of love letters. These formed the basis of her autobiography, I Walked the Line: My Life with Johnny, which was published posthumously in 2007.[1]

Early life

She was born in San Antonio, Texas,[2] the daughter of Thomas Liberto (February 4, 1905Template:SndOctober 11, 1971) and Irene Robinson (May 10, 1913Template:SndApril 7, 1979). Her siblings were Raymond Liberto (September 15, 1932Template:SndMay 23, 2008) and Sylvia Liberto (born December 22, 1936).

Her father was of Italian descent and her paternal grandparents were both born in Italy and immigrated to the United States; her mother's ancestry is unknown and her maternal grandparents were born in Texas. Her father was an insurance salesman and amateur magician. He performed his magic act at private parties and charity events and was president of the local International Brotherhood of Magicians. Vivian and her mother often performed as his assistants onstage. Vivian's starring role in his show involved crawling inside a dollhouse as he stuck eight swords into the side of it and she screamed in pretend pain.

That was her first taste of show-business life, but the Libertos were not a show-business family. The parents were very strict with Vivian and her brother and sister and kept them sheltered, disciplined, and orderly. Vivian attended Providence Catholic School for Girls in San Antonio, wearing the required uniform.

On July 18, 1951, 17-year-old Vivian went to a skating rink with friend during summer vacation, and there she met 19-year-old Johnny Cash, who was undergoing Air Force training in San Antonio. They liked each other and began a relationship; as a gesture of his feelings, he carved "Johnny Loves Vivian" into a public bench.[3] She said they "would walk on the river, and we sat there and did what we shouldn't have done and carved our names in the bench."

The Air Force sent Cash to Germany three weeks after he and Vivian met. During his three-year military tour overseas, they wrote each other daily, amassing over 10,000 pages of love letters. Many of the letters he wrote to her were published in I Walked the Line, which was co-written by Ann Sharpsteen.

Marriage to Cash

Cash was discharged from the Air Force on July 3, 1954. Vivian was with her parents in Dyess, Arkansas when he returned and she accompanied them to the airport to meet him. While she returned home to San Antonio, he went to Memphis, Tennessee, where his brother Roy worked for Chrysler, and bought a brand-new car and also looked for a place for himself and Vivian to live when they married.

On August 7, 1954 they were married at St. Ann's Catholic Church in San Antonio by her uncle, Father Vincent Liberto. In Memphis, Cash became a door-to-door home appliance salesman working on commission, which he hated, while studying to be a radio DJ. Most of his potential customers could not afford to buy a brand-new major appliance, and often a buyer's credit was rejected and he had to pay back his commission from the transaction. The young couple scrimped and lived on Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, she made her own maternity clothes, and they borrowed money from her father and Cash's employer to get by. She wrote in her book: Template:Quote

About that time, Roy introduced Cash to two mechanics who worked with him at Chrysler, Marshall Grant and Luther Perkins. As the three men loved country music and wanted to perform, they quickly became friends and formed a band together. They practiced in Grant's garage while their wives played cards in the kitchen. According to Vivian, they soon sounded really good and Cash's ambition to become a DJ faded. They both knew that pounding on doors attempting to sell appliances was not his life. He had to give music a try. Cash and the Tennessee Two, Grant and Perkins, were eventually signed to a recording contract with Sun Records, where he quickly achieved stardom and wealth.

The couple had four daughters: Rosanne (born May 24, 1955), Kathleen (born April 16, 1956), Cindy (born July 29, 1958), and Tara (born August 24, 1961).

In 1958 Columbia Records, a major record label, offered Cash a $50,000 bonus to sign with them. At the urging of Cash's new West Coast manager, Stu Carnall, the Cashes left small Sun Records and Memphis behind; they moved to Southern California four weeks after the birth of their third daughter, Cindy. They bought a spacious house on Hayvenhurst Avenue in Encino, from Johnny Carson. Cash's parents also moved to California.[4]

The move marked the start of what Vivian called "a dangerous current" running beneath their lives. Cash began drinking more and taking amphetamines. He was constantly on tour and when he was home his behavior was erratic.


The Cashes had friends at Casitas Springs, California, near Lake Casitas, between Ventura and Ojai, and so enjoyed spending time in the area that Cash wanted to live there. In the summer of 1961, two weeks after the birth of youngest daughter Tara, the family moved to a 12 acre ranch. Cash bought his parents a nearby trailer park to run.

Liberto soon found they had more privacy at their home in Encino than at Casitas Springs, as people hearing of Johnny Cash's place would come cruising up their driveway to get a look. She thought the move would put an end to his bad behavior, but it did not.

Their relationship ended soon after the move. Cash was almost always on the road touring and when he was home he was drunk and/or high and his behavior had worsened. During that time, he went out with other women (including June Carter, whom he would eventually marry in 1968). Vivian believed that if he had never gotten involved with drugs, they wouldn't have had any problems. She decided to file for divorce to shock him into coming to his senses, but the decision backfired.

In August 1966, she filed for divorce in Ventura, on grounds of extreme cruelty. She charged that Cash had left their home at Casitas Springs on a business trip on June 2 and never returned. She asked for alimony and support of their four children.[5][6] After signing the divorce papers, she said she still had hope. She called him on tour and asked if there was any chance for a reconciliation. Cash simply replied:"No, it's too late."[7] The divorce was finalized in late 1967.

Later life

On January 11, 1968, Vivian and Ventura police officer Dick Distin were married in Las Vegas and she and her daughters moved with him to Ventura, where Vivian became an active member of the community.

Vivian Liberto Cash Distin died at age 71 at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, of complications from surgery to remove lung cancer, on her oldest daughter Rosanne's 50th birthday. A memorial Mass was held on May 28, 2005, at Sacred Heart Church, Ventura. She is interred at Ivy Lawn Cemetery, Ventura.

Vivian was once mother-in-law to fellow country singers Marty Stuart and Rodney Crowell: eldest daughter Rosanne was Mrs. Rodney Crowell; third daughter Cindy was Mrs. Marty Stuart.

Her memoir, I Walked the Line: My Life with Johnny, was released in September 2007.

Fictional portrayals

In the 2005 biopic about Johnny Cash, Walk the Line, Vivian was portrayed by Ginnifer Goodwin as nagging and hard-riding. Vivian and Johnny's second daughter Kathleen criticized the movie's portrayal as inaccurate and unfair to her mother.[8] Kathy's half-brother and the film's executive producer, John Carter Cash, said he was "compassionately understanding" but that "the point of the film is my parents' love affair."[9]



  1. Nelson, Valerie J. (2005-05-29). "Vivian Distin -- first wife of Johnny Cash". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  2. Texas Birth Index, Name: Vivian Dorraine Liberto, Date of Birth: April 23, 1934, Gender: Female, Birth County: Bexar, Father's Name: Thomas Peter Liberto, Mother's Name: Irene Robinson.
  3. "San Antonio won't sell River Walk bench to Cash's first wife" (October 29, 2004 ) Plainview Herald
  4. Hilburn, Robert (October 12, 2013) "Johnny Cash's dark California days" Los Angeles Times
  5. Los Angeles Times, Aug. 18, 1966, "Southland — Singer Johnny Cash," p. 2.
  6. California Divorce Index, State File No. 608906.
  7. Johnson, Brett (2007-11-18). "Johnny Cash's first wife tells of romance, heartbreak — They walked the line". Ventura County Star. Retrieved 2014-06-01. 
  8. "Cash’s daughter objects to ‘Walks the line’", MSNBC, .
  9. "Johnny Cash film angers daughter". BBC News. 2005-11-11. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 

External links

Template:Johnny Cash

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