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Country Legend Johnny Cash Dies

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Sep 12, 2003 | 5:05am EDT

The lights are dimmed in Nashville.

Johnny Cash, country music's legendary icon, died Friday in a hospital in Nashville "due to complications from diabetes which resulted in respiratory failure," Cash's manager Lou Robin said in a statement. Cash was 71. The family has not yet announced funeral arrangements.

Known as the "Man in Black" because he always wore black clothing typically topped with a long country preacher's coat, Cash was known for reaching the hearts of the working class across the country, especially coal miners, sharecroppers and cowboys.

Over a career spanning some 50 years, Cash, a reformed drug and alcohol rabble rouser, said he loved the stark and spare sound of his early recordings made at Sun Records, the seminal Memphis studio, without overdubs or afterthought, Reuters reports.

"That music has got a simple beat people can relate to, and a haunting quality that tries to go right to the gut and to the heart, and sometimes it does," he once said. "I don't know where it comes from. I just like that mysterious sound. A song has to be something I can feel. And 'feel' covers a lot of space with me, meaning spirituality, gut feeling and heart feeling."

Cash also racked up 10 Grammy Awards in his career, including 2003's Best Male Country Vocal Performance for his song "Give My Love to Rose." He won his first Grammy in 1967.

He also won the award for Best Cinematography in a Video at last month's MTV Video Music Awards for his video "Hurt" but was unable to attend the ceremony because he was in the hospital with a stomach ailment. He was a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

His death comes four months after the death of his wife June Carter Cash, who died after complications from heart surgery at the age of 73.

Ed Benson, head of the Country Music Association, told Reuters that Cash would be sorely missed. "He was not only a giant in the music business but a cultural icon ... something very few people can say."

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