The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rising as Cash, Phoenix relives Prison Blues

Folsom, California, Jan. 4 (AP): Joaquin Phoenix, whose portrayal of Johnny Cash in Walk the Line has made him an Oscar front-runner, returned on Tuesday to the scene of one of the musician’s most famous concerts ' Folsom State Prison.

More than 50 inmates dressed in denim shirts and pants watched the movie as the actor and others ' including musician Shooter Jennings, who in the movie plays his father, Waylon Jennings ' toured the facility with prison officials.

Cash’s January 13, 1968, performance in the prison yard cemented his hardscrabble image and became a popular live album.

Dressed head to toe in Cash’s trademark black, Phoenix performed several acoustic songs with Jennings at the prison’s Greystone Chapel, including Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues. Jennings played his father’s song, I’m a Long Way From Home.

Phoenix apologised for his “rusty” performance, saying he had not played since the movie’s completion.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve messed up like 40 times,” Phoenix said.

One inmate asked Phoenix whether he had learned to play guitar for the movie.

“John wasn’t (Jimi) Hendrix,” Phoenix replied. “It was real simple.... We rehearsed a lot.”

Noting that co-star Reese Witherspoon, who played June Carter Cash, couldn’t make it, Phoenix said: “I know you guys would probably rather see Reese.”

The prisoners were subdued during most of the film, although there was occasional laughter and, at the end, applause.

“I’ve always been a fan of Johnny Cash,” said inmate Gary Lopez, 61, who has been in jail for 11 years for attempted murder. “I grew up in the country.... All we had was a radio. All we listened to was country music. All through the movie I had a lump in my throat.”

Phoenix has been considered a likely Academy Award nominee for his performance as Cash, who died in 2003 soon after his wife’s death.

An Oscar win by Phoenix would make it the second straight year the best-actor honour went to a performer playing a beloved, recently deceased American singer. Jamie Foxx won the award last year for his portrayal of Ray Charles in Ray.

The event was organised by Prison Fellowship, a group that runs Bible studies and other educational programmes in prisons.

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