In early 2004, singer/songwriter Merle Kilgore received a phone call from a TV production company in Florida wanting his input on an idea for an advertisement: Wouldn’t it be funny if Johnny Cash’s "Ring of Fire" was used in a commercial for hemorrhoid ointment?
Here's how the Ottawa Citizen described the concept for the commercial:
"Ring of Fire" plays in the background as the camera pans an apartment, with a briefcase and shoes scattered on the floor. Suddenly, the bathroom door opens and a relieved woman in a business suit walks out, leaving a tube of Preparation H lying on the countertop. The commercial ends with a closeup of the tube.
Kilgore, who co-wrote the 1963 hit song with Johnny's wife June Carter Cash, chuckled at the idea. Of course he found the idea funny, he told them. In fact, he had been telling that joke for years! Every time Kilgore played the tune for an audience, he introduced it with a short comedy routine: “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to give credit where credit is due,” he’d say. “I dedicate this song to the makers of Preparation H.”
And then he’d begin to sing: “And it burns burns burns, that ring of fire, that ring of fire …”
When Cash’s family found out that Kilgore was thinking about giving the production company permission to use "Ring of Fire" in a hemorrhoid cream advertisement, they were not amused. Previously, the song had been used in a commercial for Levi's and a rumored ad in Britain for spicy foods, but this one walked (off) the line. And since the song had been co-written by June Carter Cash, the family had the right to veto the decision.
"[Kilgore] started talking about this moronic tie-in without talking to any of us," Rosanne Cash, Johnny's eldest daughter, told The Tennessean. "We would never allow the song to be demeaned like that.”
When Kilgore heard the Cash family was unhappy, he nixed the idea and acted contrite. “I certainly didn’t want to upset the Cash family because I love them,” he said. “I just thought it was kind of funny.”
Sometimes, people just don't like being the butt of a joke.