NASHVILLE — Turns out the “Man in Black” also wore blue.
Johnny Cash, who had a rebel’s image but a limited wrap sheet, was deputized Sept. 12, 1979, by then-Davidson County Sheriff Fate Thomas.
Nashville Sheriff Daron Hall presented an enlarged image of Cash’s deputy ID badge, which granted the country music icon the power to “arrest any and all persons violating the Criminal laws of the State of Tennessee,” Tuesday to the Johnny Cash Museum.
Cash used his celebrity to push for prison and criminal justice reforms.
He played numerous times behind bars for inmates. Cash recorded two albums live in prison, “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” and “Johnny Cash at San Quentin,” which both topped the Billboard country charts when they were released.
Although Cash fought drug and alcohol addiction, he was never arrested for a felony or served a prison sentence. He spent several nights in jail for various misdemeanor offenses or when he was performing for inmates.
"Johnny was a contradiction," friend and singer Kris Kristofferson said in 2003 at Cash's funeral. "He was a deeply spiritual man who was the champion of the voiceless and the downtrodden. He was also something of a holy terror. He was a dark and dangerous force of nature that also stood for mercy and justice for his fellow human beings. He evolved into a patriarchal figure that hid the wild boy in him. Johnny represented the best of America, and we're not going to see the likes of him again."
The deputy badge was not just for show. The ID gave the singer the power to arrest.
"I think he would have been more interested in what can we do to help the person that is about to be arrested than to have arrested a whole lot of people," Hall told WPLN. "He was doing it not for his own commercial appeal, but trying to carry a message of — his exact words, I think, were that prisons do no good if you don't do good for people who are in prison. We've tried to take that into our own philosophy. I hope he would be proud of what we're trying to do."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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