The Man in Black is well known for his iconic contributions to the music world, his steely, outlaw persona, and his well-documented battles with addiction. But did you know that he was also almost killed in another battle – with an ostrich?
It all happened in 1981, when Cash’s career had slowed down and he was spending much of his time at home in Hendersonville, Tennessee just outside of Nashville. The sprawling property, which he called the “House of Cash,” featured not only a museum, but also Cash’s recording studios and a farm.
Cash, who had seemingly overcome his addiction to pills at this point, had built up quite the collection of exotic animals at the House of Cash, including a pair of ostriches.
But according to his 2003 autobiography, Cash: The Autobiography, that winter was especially brutal, and the female ostrich ended up freezing to death after refusing to be captured and taken inside the barn.
This apparently upset her male mate, who Johnny said had always been pleasant to him before losing his mate. But on one particular occasion when Cash was walking through the compound, the ostrich named Waldo wasn’t exactly happy to see him.
Waldo jumped out and spread his wings in front of Cash, hissing at him as he crouched down ready to attack. But as Johnny explained, he was eventually able to get by the bird without incident – but he knew it wasn’t over:
“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.”
Well the plan that Johnny came up with was arming himself with a six-foot stick to take on the beast in case it caused trouble on his way back. And trouble is exactly what Waldo had in mind:
“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.”
Unfortunately for Johnny, he missed because the bird had a height advantage, despite Cash having a six-foot stick. And Waldo used that height advantage to take a massive leap before unleashing a karate kick right into Johnny’s stomach:
“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.”
The force of the ostrich kick knocked Johnny on his back, breaking two of his ribs from the kick and three more when he fell to the ground and landed on a rock.
Oh, and the bird’s massive talons also managed to split Johnny’s stomach open clean down to his belt buckle – and Johnny says that if it wasn’t for that belt buckle, Waldo may have been able to finish him off right there on his own property:
“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.”
Luckily for Cash, even after being knocked on his back he knew he had to try to protect himself, so he kept swinging the stick and managed to get a good hit on one of the ostrich’s legs, which was enough to get him to run away and let Johnny get to safety.
While word of the incident leaked to the local newspaper, Cash was originally hesitant to tell the story because he thought it “sounded so dumb.” But unfortunately, the injuries that the Man in Black sustained in the attack reportedly led to another battle with addiction to painkillers, and ultimately he was forced back into rehab multiple times before his death in 2003.
As for Waldo, Cash let the angry bird stay on his farm until he found it another home, ultimately giving the ostrich to a zoo – where hopefully he wasn’t able to attack anybody again.