Jerry Lee Lewis, Rock Pioneer, Dies @ 87

Rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis died Friday, October 28, of undisclosed causes in Memphis, according to 117 Entertainment.

He was 87.

The rocker was one of the first people inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Image via vintage headshot)

TMZ had mistakenly reported the legend's death just days before and issued a retraction. It now appears someone merely jumped the gun.

While universally acknowledged as one of the greats of rock, Lewis will probably always be remembered for his third marriage, at 22, to his first cousin once removed, Myra Gale Brown. Brown was only 13 years old at the time.

Born in Ferriday, Louisiana, on September 29, 1935, Lewis recorded his first songs in 1956 at Sun Records in Memphis. "Crazy Arms" was a a big success in the American South, but it was his Top 3 1957 single "Whole Lotta Shakin'" that made him a superstar, also establishing him as one of the most gifted — and wildest — pianists of the 20th century.

Lewis again made music history with "Great Balls of Fire" (a #2 hit in 1957), his signature track, and enjoyed big successes with "Breathless" (1958) and "High School Confidential" (1958).

It was at this point that Lewis's career imploded when his marriage to his underage cousin was revealed.

Lewis was married at 16 briefly, and was then married for four years, though his second marriage overlapped his first, making him a bigamist.

Lewis wed Brown in 1957, again neglecting to wait for his existing union to be resolved. At first, he lied about her age, telling people she was 15. When word got out about his child bride — and his penchant for bigamy — Lewis's popularity took a nosedive.

He had one more pop hit, with a cover of "What'd I Say" in 1961, and continued to perform acclaimed live shows, before switching to country & western at the end of the '60s. Country fans accepted his past indiscretions, and he enjoyed many big hits on the country charts, including the chart-toppers "To Make Love Sweeter for You" (1968), "There Must Be More to Love Than This" (1970), "Me and Bobby McGee" (1971), "Would You Take Another Chance on Me" (1971) and "Chantilly Lace" (1972).

In spite of the controversy that consumed his early, meteoric rise, Lewis's importance in the history of rock remained unblemished. Rolling Stone named him one of rock's 100 greatest acts, he enjoyed hit singles on the country charts through the mid-'80s, and his 2006 album release Last Man Standing — devoted to duets — became the biggest seller of his entire career.

The legend of Lewis was immortalized in the film Great Balls of Fire! (1989), starring Dennis Quaid as Lewis. The movie was based on a book that had started out as his ex-wife Myra's story of triumph over an abusive marriage, but was edited into the story of Lewis's own rocky career.

Among other missteps, Lewis was arrested in 1976 at Graceland for allegedly attempting to shoot Elvis Presley — he was collared at Presley's request — and battled the the IRS. He was also embroiled in a lawsuit with his own offspring.

Lewis, who was married seven times, is survived by his wife Judith, with whom he had been since 2012, and by four of his children. He was preceded in death by two of his sons.

Lewis in 2019 (Image via Twitter)

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment