They had been married for 13 years but Johnny's addiction and affair with June Carter were too much for her to remain in the marriage, especially after having four kids together.
Before Johnny Cash and June Carter's love story became iconic, there was another woman in the legendary singer's life, his first wife, Vivian Liberto. Johnny and Carter's love overshadowed her existence in the singer's life completely and she never said a word about it, but like any other woman, her husband's infidelity affected her immensely.
Johnny and Liberto had been married for 13 years but their love was soon tainted by infidelity after Carter entered the singer's life. Talking to Closer Weekly, Johnny and Liberto's second daughter Kathy Cash revealed the moment the artist saw Liberto in 1951. She said, "Dad said he felt a connection and knew he wanted to get to know her. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to Mom." She is one of the four daughters of the couple.
Liberto was just 17 years old when she met the singer at a roller skating rink in San Antonio, Texas. After three weeks of dating and exchanging more than 1000 love letters, the couple took the vow on August 7, 1954, and moved to Memphis, reported Wide Open Country.
However, things weren't as smooth as they were supposed to be. After the Hurt singer signed a contract with Sun Records, things took a turn for the worse. He was always on the road and that was also the time when he met Carter, a fellow country singer. Liberto in her 2008 memoir, I Walked the Line: My Life With Johnny Cash, described it as the “one hour that would change everything.”
Rosanne Cash, their oldest daughter, in an interview with People opened up about her father's fame and its effects on his relationship with the family. She said, “My childhood was chaotic, number one,” and continued, “I understood from a really young age that [my dad] was an artist and that his mind worked differently. And … that scared my mother.”
After the growing family moved to Memphis in 1958, Johnny wrote the song I Walk the Line that hinted on Liberto's fear that Johnny would leave her once he's on the road and her fears turned out to be true. “He wrote, ‘I’m gonna stay true,’” Rosanne said and continued, “Of course that wasn’t true.”
After the birth of their third daughter, Cindy Cash, in 1958, Johnny found himself in the Hollywood lifestyle filled with booze and drugs. “All of the things that Johnny had called filthy and dirty and had insisted would destroy our lives were things he began to embrace,” Liberto wrote, according to All Things Interesting.
The birth of their fourth daughter, Tara Cash, brought to her notice that Johnny was spending in abundance on gifts that she never received and spent more time out than at home. Hints from bandmates and family members confirmed her suspicion of her husband having an affair. She filed for divorce in 1966 and labeled the ordeal as a “degrading, horrible experience.”
Two years later, the Man In Black hitmaker got clean from his destructive habits and married Carter. Explaining how Liberto felt about the betrayal, Rosanne told People, “It seemed inevitable, though it was so painful for my mom." According to Cindy, Carter was fixated on being with Johnny and ultimately got what she wanted. All Things Interesting reported her saying, "Once June came along, she relentlessly — well, she wanted Dad and she was going to get him and she did. She made herself very available, to where he pursued her back.”
Long-time friend, Alice Smith, recalled that Liberto regretted not being with Johnny while touring. “She’d say, ‘If I only could have traveled with him instead of being here raising four kids, things would have been different.' She said that a lot.”
Ann Sharpsteen who co-authored the memoir with Liberto said that the whole purpose of her writing the book was to let people know that Johnny was a "wonderful, caring, protective husband" and that "June went after Johnny,” not the other way round. She added, “That was where most of her pain and anger rested all these years.”
Liberto reconciled with her estranged husband when she asked for his permission to write the book about their marriage. However, the claims in the book never received any explanation because all three people, Johnny, Liberto, and Carter passed away before its release in 2007.