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Mon, 04.23.1934

Vivian Liberto Distin, Wife of Johnny Cash, and Author born

Vivian Liberto Distin

*Vivian Liberto Distin was born on this date in 1934. She was a Black homemaker and author.

She was the first wife of singer Johnny Cash. Vivian Liberto was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, was the daughter of Irene (Robinson) and Thomas Peter Liberto. Her paternal grandparents were from Cefalù, Palermo, Sicily. Her mother was German and Irish. Her maternal great-great-grandmother, Sarah A. Shields, was a mulatto Black slave woman, who was freed along with her eight siblings by their white father.

Liberto met Cash at a roller-skating rink in 1951 when he was based at Brooks Air Force Base. The couple courted for three weeks before the Air Force deployed Cash to West Germany for a three-year tour. During the separation, the couple exchanged thousands of letters. On August 7, 1954, Liberto and Cash were married at St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church in San Antonio, one month after his discharge from the Air Force. Together they had four daughters: Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy, and Tara.

The couple divorced in 1966 after twelve years of marriage. In 1968 Liberto married Dick Distin, a police officer in Ventura, California, to whom she remained married until her death on May 24, 2005, following complications from lung cancer surgery. The letters between her and Cash formed the basis for Liberto’s book I Walked the Line, which was published in 2007.

Liberto was portrayed in the Cash biopic Walk the Line by actress Ginnifer Goodwin and by Anna Grace Stewart in the CMT miniseries Sun Records. Liberto's life and times are chronicled in the 2020 documentary film, My Darling Vivian, which premiered as part of the South by Southwest 2020 Film Festival Collection, presented by Amazon Prime Video.

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