The Man in Black, one of the toughest guys in all of rock, Johnny Cash, it turns out, can still lose a fight or two. Especially when he’s fighting the biggest bird in the world. Yes, it’s true, Johnny Cash once had a fight with an ostrich and got KO’d quicker than you can say “Hello everybody, I’m Johnny Cash.”
Let us set the scene, it is 1981 and Cash’s mystique as one of the baddest men in music was beginning to wane. The singer was far away from his bristling counter-culture bravado of the sixties, and a few steps away too from his evangelical gospel image of the ’70s. In truth, Cash was very lost creatively.
As such, Johnny Cash was, for the most part, enduring a semi-retirement at the ‘House of Cash’ in Tennesee – the complex of studios and farms that Johnny had made his HQ. Cash had been battling addiction throughout all these career peaks and troughs but had seemingly gained a hold of his addiction problems before eye surgery and a run-in with his pet ostrich nearly put him back on the pills for good.
The account, as Martin Schreider of Dangerous Minds reports, is a truly captivating event and shows off not only Cash’s supreme gratitude for having a decent belt (saying it saved his life) but also his expertise with a pen. The excerpt was taken from Cash’s expertly titled 2003 autobiography Cash: The Autobiography:
“Ostrich attacks are rare in Tennessee, it’s true, but this one really happened, on the grounds of the exotic animal park I’d established behind the House of Cash offices near my house on Old Hickory Lake. It occurred during a particularly bitter winter, when below-zero temperatures had reduced our ostrich population by half; the hen of our pair wouldn’t let herself be captured and taken inside the barn, so she froze to death. That, I guess, is what made her mate cranky. Before then he’d been perfectly pleasant with me, as had all the other birds and animals, when I walked through the compound.”
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“That day, though, he was not happy to see me. I was walking through the woods in the compound when suddenly he jumped out onto the trail in front of me and crouched there with his wings spread out, hissing nastily.”
“Nothing came of that encounter. I just stood there until he laid his wings back, quit hissing, and moved off. Then I walked on. As I walked I plotted. He’d be waiting for me when I came back by there, ready to give me the same treatment, and I couldn’t have that. I was the boss. It was my land.”
“The ostrich didn’t care. When I came back I was carrying a good stout six-foot stick, and I was prepared to use it. And sure enough, there he was on the trail in front of me, doing his thing. When he started moving toward me I went on the offensive, taking a good hard swipe at him.”
“I missed. He wasn’t there. He was in the air, and a split second later he was on his way down again, with that big toe of his, larger than my size-thirteen shoe, extended toward my stomach. He made contact—I’m sure there was never any question he wouldn’t—and frankly, I got off lightly. All he did was break my two lower ribs and rip my stomach open down to my belt, If the belt hadn’t been good and strong, with a solid belt buckle, he’d have spilled my guts exactly the way he meant to. As it was, he knocked me over onto my back and I broke three more ribs on a rock—but I had sense enough to keep swinging the stick, so he didn’t get to finish me. I scored a good hit on one of his legs, and he ran off.”
The moment is just another in a series of wonderful tales to include Johnny Cash. While most of them centre on something thuggish or outlandish happening, nobody could’ve expected Cash to be decked by an ostrich. Least of all Cash himself.