Johnny and June Carter Cash, left, and the Rev. and Mrs. Billy Graham enjoy supper at Mario's restaurant June 25, 1979, after the crusade. With them is their host Mario Ferrari, center.
Dale Ernsberger / The Tennessean

At first glance, a connection between a hard-living singer and an evangelist may seem unusual, but music legend Johnny Cash and Billy Graham were close friends for decades.

Cash was a man of deep religious faith. In addition to the gospel music he recorded over the years, he traveled to Israel to make the film Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus, and wrote a novel, called The Man in White, about the life of Apostle Paul.

In his 1997 autobiography, written with Patrick Carr, Cash wrote that Graham helped him deal with his "faith as a public person in the secular world." 

Cash added that Graham told him, "Don't apologize for who you are and what you've done in the past ... Be who you are and do what you do." 

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According to a Dec. 8, 1969, article in The Tennessean, they first met on Dec. 7 when Graham came to the Cash home in Hendersonville, Tenn., for Sunday dinner. They had a wide-ranging conversation about topics ranging from the Vietnam War to Cash's recent Madison Square Garden concert, and Cash introduced the preacher to his mother and family. 

"If there's ever anything I can do to help you anytime, I wish you'd let me know," Cash reportedly said. Graham mentioned that he planned to hold a crusade in May at the University of Tennessee, and asked if Cash would speak to the crowd and sing one of his religious songs. "I would really like to do that," Cash responded. "I'd like to tell 'em some things I haven't said much about before — about how I grew up in the Baptist church in Arkansas and about some of the troubles I've had to overcome to get to where I've gotten ... and who I owe it to." 

Evangelist Billy Graham, left, reads his Bible while Johnny Cash plucks his guitar before the Ryman Auditorium audience Jan. 31, 1971. The evangelist joined his old friend for a taping of the country star's Feb. 28 network TV show devoted solely to gospel music. Graham confessed to a bit of nervousness.
J.T. Phillips / The Tennessean

By the time Graham left Hendersonville, the two men had become friends.

According to Bill Miller, owner of the Johnny Cash Museum, Graham initially had another motive in mind when he came to Tennessee: "In the late '60s his son, Franklin Graham, was sort of rebellious, and Johnny Cash was the hottest act in the world. Billy sought him out in an attempt to be cool and relevant to his son, and it resulted in a lifelong friendship." 

Cash and his wife, June Carter Cash, performed during some of Graham's crusades over the years, and Graham made a 1971 appearance on Cash's television show.

He also visited the Cash family at their home in Jamaica multiple times. The Cashes even dubbed one of the rooms in their house "the Billy Graham room," as it had an extra-long bed to fit Graham's tall frame. 

The conversation had to be lively when these distinguished guests gathered at the home of Johnny and June Carter Cash on Old Hickory Lake for dinner Oct. 26, 1973. They are Buford Pusser, Dr. Billy Graham, Cash, John Rollins, Dr. Nat Winston and James F. Neal.
Frank Empson / The Tennessean

"I've always been able to share my secrets and problems with Billy, and I've benefited greatly from his support and advice," Cash wrote in his autobiography. "Even during my worst times, when I've fallen back into using pills of one sort or another, he's maintained his friendship with me and given me his ear and advice, always based solidly on the Bible. He's never pressed me when I've been in trouble; he's waited for me to reveal myself, and then he's helped me as much as we can."

Cash and Graham remained friends until Cash's death in September 2003. Franklin Graham stood in for his father at Cash's funeral. He delivered a message from his father, saying he looks "forward to seeing Johnny and June in heaven one day." 

Graham died Wednesday at the age of 99.

America's pastor Billy Graham dies at 99

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