As Far Out reports, the seemingly apocryphal tale unfolded in 1981, when Cash’s career was on the wane and the singer was spending a lot of time on his property in Tennessee. As he recalled in his 1997 autobiography Cash, the singer had built up a kind of privatized animal park near his home that contained a number of species. While out for a walk, Cash noticed that an ostrich named Waldo seemed to be bothered by his presence, a possible result of the bird having recently lost its mate.
This was a problem. Ostriches are the world’s biggest birds, standing up to 9 feet tall and weighing upwards of 320 pounds. And they are not particularly gentle giants. Owing to their size, an ostrich in a foul mood can practically gore an opponent with one of their sharp talons.
As Waldo hissed, Cash continued walking but began formulating a plan for when he had to come back the same way. The singer picked up a 6-foot stick. As predicted, the ornery bird was still angling for a fight.
“When he started moving toward me I went on the offensive, taking a good hard swipe at him,” Cash wrote. “I missed. He wasn’t there. He was in the air, and a split second later he was on his way down again, with that big toe of his, larger than my size-13 shoe, extended toward my stomach. He made contact—I’m sure there was never any question he wouldn’t—and frankly, I got off lightly. All he did was break my two lower ribs and rip my stomach open down to my belt, If the belt hadn’t been good and strong, with a solid belt buckle, he’d have spilled my guts exactly the way he meant to.”
One blow from the stick struck the ostrich in the leg, which finally discouraged him from disemboweling the recording artist.
The incident was leaked in the fall of 1981, when a spokesperson for Cash told The Tennessean that Waldo had “knocked him down” and “scratched him.” Cash was initially hesitant to confirm the story, the person said, “because it sounded so dumb.”
The injuries allegedly led to Cash struggling with painkillers. The entire event was dramatized on Sky Arts’ Johnny Cash and the Ostrich, a 30-minute program that aired in 2018. As for Waldo, Cash let him remain on the grounds before giving him away to a zoo.