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Country music’s Merle Kilgore dead at 70

Co-wrote ‘Ring of Fire’ with June Carter Cash
/ Source: Reuters

Country music mainstay Merle Kilgore, who managed Hank Williams Jr. and co-wrote the hit tune “Ring of Fire” with one-time client June Carter Cash, died in Mexico Sunday of congestive heart failure related to his treatment for cancer, his publicist said. He was 70.

Kilgore, who started out as a singer/songwriter joined forces with Williams in the 1960s when they shared a bill. By that time, Kilgore had already written “More and More” for Webb Pierce, “Wolverton Mountain” for Claude King, and “Ring of Fire,” which became one of Johnny Cash’s biggest hits.

The latter tune was inspired by June Carter Cash’s unrequited love for her future husband, and was first recorded by her younger sister, Anita Carter.

In a 1999 interview, June Carter Cash told Reuters that Kilgore encouraged her to write the song “and let’s just leave it that way.” She said her husband believed that Kilgore should never have received credit, and he used to get annoyed when Kilgore would talk about writing the song and not mention her. The Cashes died within months of each other in 2003.

Kilgore’s survivors include his wife, Judy, and five children.