Vivian Liberto
Screengrab via YouTube/ CBS News

Vivian Liberto: 8 Things to Know About Johnny Cash's First Marriage

While the world was falling in love with June Carter and Johnny Cash's romance, Cash's first wife, Vivian Liberto, quietly raised her and Cash's four daughters, Rosanne, Kathy, Tara, and Cindy, out of the spotlight.

She released a book titled I Walked The Line: My Life With Johnny to share her side of the story. Here are eight things you may have not known about Vivian Liberto and her marriage to the country music legend.

The documentary My Darling Vivian shares Liberto's story.

Read More: How 'Walk The Line' Brought New Eyes to Country Music

1. It all started in Texas

Vivian Dorraine Liberto was born in San Antonio where she met Cash at a roller-skating rink when she was only 17 years old.

2. It was a bit of a whirlwind love story

Cash proposed after only three weeks of dating the young Vivian.

3. He wrote her love letters that she kept until her death

Liberto's book includes multiple love letters that Cash wrote her during his time serving as an Air Force serviceman stationed in Germany following their whirlwind romance in San Antonio.

4. She and Cash received death threats

Liberto was of Sicilian, German, Irish and African American descent (though her African American ancestry wasn't known until later). After photos of Cash and Liberto were published following Cash's 1965 arrest at the U.S.-Mexico border, white supremacist groups threatened the couple.

In addition to multiple canceled shows in the Jim Crow South of the 1960s, the Cash family also received death threats, making it a difficult time for a marriage that was already on the rocks.

During a recent episode of Finding Your Roots, host and historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. shared with Rosanne Cash that her mother's great-great grandmother was a Black woman, Sarah Shields, who married a white man. All of Shields' children were listed as white.

"That's likely why to this day, many of her direct descendants have no idea that they have any African American ancestry," Gates said (quote via The Washington Post).

5. She also moved on after the failed first marriage

While the Man in Black was moving on with June Carter, Liberto also remarried in 1968 to Ventura police officer Dick Distin. She left the Casitas Springs home in California that was once shared with her ex-husband and moved to Ventura.

6. She was more than just "Johnny Cash's first wife"

Liberto was an active participant in her local community following her divorce. She was president of her garden club and even volunteered at the hospital and the local unwed mothers home.

7. They were on speaking terms until the end

Vivian visited Cash following June Carter's death in 2003 and told him about her book that reflected on their lives. She was able to finish the book before her death due to complications from lung cancer surgery in 2005.

8. She also loved him until the end

Despite everything Johnny put her through, Liberto always wondered what it would have been like if she had been able to tour with him. She never stopped loving him and still always thought of him as the husband he once was. She even maintains in the book that she always wanted to make sure her daughters knew she loved their father.


This article was originally published in 2019. It was updated on May 24, 2021. 

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