By Matt McCaskill
The tale of Johnny Cash getting his guts ripped open by an ostrich could be one of revenge for the condors he nearly wiped out (FE story on that HERE). Maybe it’s poetic justice, or possibly karma. Most likely it’s just another chapter in the man’s ridiculous life. But it is absolutely true and somehow typical for him.
By the late 70s, country music’s favorite derelict had sold umpteen million records, struggled with addiction, went through a bitter divorce, and decided that enough was enough. So, he settled down with his soulmate, June, at the House of Cash—his 175-acre estate on Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee. Johnny enjoyed a wholesome, pastoral life: shedding the outlaw image, recording hymns in his studio, and getting right with the Lord.
Among the amenities on this compound was an exotic animal park that Cash tended to daily. There you could find buffalo, llamas, boar, and, of course, ostriches. This is where things get interesting.
The trouble actually began earlier in the winter of 1981 when a bitter cold snap killed several members of his ostrich menagerie, including the female half of a breeding pair. Considering that ostriches are ill-tempered bastards on the best of days, you can imagine the mood that the lonely, horny male, a fellow named Waldo, was in. One fateful morning Cash moseyed unarmed along a trail through the park when Waldo leapt out in front of him, wings spread and hissing with anger. Johnny stood his ground like the man’s man he was, and Waldo backed away long enough for him to complete passage. But Cash expected the return trip would not be so easy, and he had the situational awareness to grab a stick for the walk back home. Turned out to be a good call.
When the man came back around, Waldo appeared again, and this time went on the attack. Cash reacted quickly and took a swing at the giant bird but missed. Waldo, however, did not miss. Waldo took to the sky and came down hard on Johnny with his enormous, prehistoric, creepy-ass ostrich toe, immediately ripping his stomach open and breaking two ribs on contact. Johnny fell on a rock, busted three more ribs, and was in serious trouble. But the Man in Black showed great courage in the midst of the avian assault. He retained his weapon and swung it wildly, eventually connecting with one of Waldo’s legs and running him off.
Though the injuries sustained were serious, even Cash admitted that things could’ve gone much worse. He attributed his survival to his massive, Ric Flair-esque belt buckle that was so fashionable at the time. It apparently stopped the gashing of the bird’s toe and prevented a graver calamity. Accessories are so important.
Sadly, this incident led to Cash getting hooked on painkillers yet again. Two years later he checked into the Betty Ford Clinic, where he got sober (again) and made fast friends with, of all people, Ozzy Osborne. But that’s yet another story.
You will never see the likes of Cash again. God rest his soul.