Armed with a deep gravelly voice and an ever-present guitar, Johnny Cash occupied a unique place in the country music genre - which he used to espouse liberal causes.
Cash battled drug addictions during his long career
His career coincided with the birth of rock and roll and he borrowed from this influence to add to the country and gospel roots he had grown up with.
Partly of Indian descent, Cash was born and raised in a shotgun shack in Arkansas's cotton country.
While he was in high school, he sang on an Arkansas radio station.
Man in Black
He joined the air force at the outbreak of the Korean War, where he bought a guitar and taught himself to play. He began writing songs including Folsom Prison Blues.
In 1955, he joined Sun Record's so-called million-dollar quartet session with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley.
Johnny Cash with wife June, who died in May
Several top 10 hits followed on the Sun label, including Hey Porter and I Walk the Line.
For his debut in 1957 at Nashville's famous country music venue, the Grand Ole Opry, he appeared clothed entirely in black and eventually earned the nickname The Man in Black.
But as his career progressed, he fell victim to drug and alcohol abuse which began to affect his work. His number of hit records declined.
He was arrested in El Paso for attempting to smuggle amphetamines into the country in 1965. The Grand Ole Opry refused to allow him to perform, so he wrecked their footlights.
In his autobiography, he told of how, in 1967, with "nothing in his blood but amphetamines", he crawled into a cave to die.
He survived, and discovered God in the process.
By now he had met June Carter from the legendary Carter Family whose radio broadcasts had inspired Cash during his youth.
He had collaborated with Carter for the huge hit Ring of Fire.
She helped him overcome his addictions and together they made a triumphant comeback, selling out Carnegie Hall and breaking the Beatles' attendance record at the London Palladium.
Prime time popularity
His career bounced back with hits such as Jackson and Rosanna's Going Wild.
In 1968, he released his most popular album, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, recorded during a prison concert.
The following year saw the sequel, Johnny Cash at San Quentin, which contained one of his biggest hits A Boy Named Sue.
ABC Television commissioned The Johnny Cash Show, which ran for three years on prime time.
It presented guest artists as varied as Ray Charles, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder and The Who.
Cash and Carter became more socially active in the 1970s, campaigning for the civil rights of native Americans and prisoners, as well as frequently working with the evangelist Billy Graham.
Renewed record sales made Cash a millionaire and he used his earnings to support many charitable causes.
His was the liberal voice of country music, opposing the Vietnam War and supporting racial equality.
In 1980 he became the youngest inductee to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
He also campaigned for prison reform, corresponded with inmates and helped many to return to society.
In 1986 he surprised fans and critics alike by writing Man in White, a best-selling novel based on the life of St Paul.
His albums American Recordings and Unchained reached a new generation of fans and he appeared at the Glastonbury Festival in 1994.
In recent years he had been in and out of hospital several times, suffering from bronchitis and pneumonia.
If country tended towards the sentimental, Johnny Cash, in both his music and his life, sounded a note of gritty realism.