Jonathan Holiff: My Father and the Man in Black

Jonathan Holiff recalls the journey that led him to the truth about his overbearing father, Saul: the man who struggled to control Johnny Cash and his own demons.

Jonathan Holiff wanted to forget his father, Saul, after he committed “rational suicide” in 2005. They'd been estranged for decades, and Jonathan only had painful memories of the hard-drinking man whose coldness blighted his youth. He'd left Canada, aged 17, determined to earn his showbiz father's respect by bettering him professionally. Despite doing well in Hollywood, none materialised.

[My] entire adult life had been a knee-jerk adolescent reaction to my father's lack of approval,” Holiff says down the line during a visit to Los Angeles. “So I realised, after his death, that I was truly unhappy, and no longer had an interest in the superficial existence that I had pursued and embraced as a consequence.”

He sold his business in Tinseltown and drove back to Canada, thinking he'd also left Saul behind. However, as revealed in his compelling documentary, My Father and the Man in Black, Holiff was in fact beginning a journey that would force him to re-think his father.

Looming over their story is Johnny Cash (aka the Man in Black), the Southern Baptist superstar Saul - a Jew “as serious as a heart attack”, according to Cash's band mates - managed for 13 years, before mysteriously resigning at the height of Cash's fame. When journalists and biographers started calling with questions about Saul and Johnny's relationship that Holiff couldn't answer, his mother remembered that after retiring, her husband had put his business things into a storage locker.

I was unable to bring myself to open the door because I didn't want to wade into my father's life,” says Holiff. “I was still un-evolved emotionally. I was still practising denial.”



My Father and the Man in Black is released today

Copyright Stephen Applebaum, 2013

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