Stars gather for Johnny Cash funeral

 

Family, friends and musicians gathered at Johnny Cash's funeral today to pay tribute to a giant in American music.

"He represented the best of America - we're not going to see his like again," said singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson, who wrote Cash's 1970 hit "Sunday Morning Coming Down."

More than 1,000 people attended the private two-and-a-half-hour service at First Baptist Church of Hendersonville, about 15 miles north of Nashville - thesame church where Cash mourned the death of his wife, June Carter Cash, in May.

Cash, 71, died on Friday of respiratory failure caused by complications fromdiabetes. He had been in declining health for years.

"I can almost live in a world without Johnny Cash because he will always bewith us," said Cash's daughter, singer Rosanne Cash. "I cannot begin toimagine a world without Daddy."

Among the celebrities attending were country singers Vince Gill, Hank WilliamsJr., Travis Tritt, Dwight Yoakam, George Jones, Ricky Skaggs, Ronnie Dunn, theStatler Brothers and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Other celebrities included rock-rapper Kid Rock, actress Jane Seymour andformer Vice President Al Gore, a native of Tennessee.

Kristofferson called Cash "Abraham Lincoln with a wild side" - a man alwayswilling to champion the voiceless and downtrodden, "whose work in life has beenan inspiration and salvation to so many people around the world."

The Rev. Franklin Graham - son of Cash's friend, the Rev. Billy Graham,delivered the sermon, calling Cash "a good man who also struggled with manychallenges in his life. He was a deeply religious man."

Emmylou Harris and Sheryl Crow sang the gospel hymn, "The Old Rugged Cross"and Bob Dylan's "Every Grain of Sand."

Cash, known as "The Man in Black" for his preferred attire, said in a hitsong that he wore the colour in honour of the poor and oppressed. He was buriedin a black coffin with silver handles.

As the service came to an end, country singer Larry Gatlin addressed his ownson, Joshua Cash Gatlin, from the pulpit: "Son, this man fed your mama and mewhen we couldn't afford food. He paid rent for us when we couldn't pay rent."

For more than four decades, beginning in the 1950s as a peer of Elvis Presleyin Memphis, Cash specialised in earthy songs about hard times and brooding lovesongs.

His hits range from the rockabilly anthem "Get Rhythm," to the comical"A Boy Named Sue," to the recent "Hurt," about the ravages of drug abuse.

Cash rose to fame in his late 20s, but his career was nearly derailed by anaddiction to pills. He credited his wife, Carter Cash, whom he married in 1968,for helping him beat the addiction.

His commercial peak was from 1969-71 when he had a network television showwith guests including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Kristofferson.

After a dip in record sales that lasted nearly two decades, Cash partneredwith rock-rap producer Rick Rubin and recorded four critically lauded albumsthat found him a new, younger audience.

After the death of Carter Cash in May, Cash spent most of his time recording,leaving more than 30 songs yet to be released. He had planned to attend the MTVVideo Music Awards shortly before his death, but was unable to because ofillness.

His video for "Hurt" won an award for cinematography at that show,and he has four nominations at the Country Music Association Awards inNovember.

The funeral programme listed the active pallbearers as country singers Gatlin,Marty Stuart and producer Randy Scruggs. Honorary pallbearers includedKristofferson Rubin singers Rodney Crowell and Willie Nelson, Marshall Grant,who played bass in Cash's original band and his brother Tommy Cash.

A public memorial was also being planned.

AP