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'Walk the Line' Actor Visits Folsom Prison

January 05, 2006|From Associated Press

FOLSOM, Calif. — Joaquin Phoenix, whose portrayal of Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line" has made him an early Oscar front-runner, returned this week to the scene of one of the musician's most famous concerts: Folsom State Prison.

Cash's Jan. 13, 1968, performance in a prison yard cemented his image as working-class hero and became a popular album.

About 54 inmates watched the movie Tuesday as the actor and his entourage -- including Shooter Jennings, who played his father, Waylon Jennings, in the movie -- and several prison officials toured the facility.

Dressed head to toe in Cash's trademark black, Phoenix performed several acoustic songs with Jennings, including Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."

Phoenix apologized for his "rusty" performance, saying that he had not played since the completion of the movie.

"I don't know if you've noticed, but I've messed up like 40 times," Phoenix said. "I'm all over the place."

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

"John wasn't [Jimi] Hendrix," Phoenix replied. "It was real simple.... We rehearsed a lot."

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

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

The event was organized by Prison Fellowship, which runs Bible studies and other educational programs in prisons.

Fellowship spokesman Joe Avila said the movie's message would be good for inmates because Cash's "whole life was a message of redemption."

"The movie is about how he screwed it up really bad, and he turned to Jesus Christ to help him change," Avila said.

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