Jerry Lee Lewis, the unstoppable pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll, dies on Friday morning at the age of 87. His career was otherwise derailed by personal scandal due to his outrageous talent, energy, and ego, which collided on such classic records as “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”
According to the announcement, Lewis passed away at his residence in Memphis, Mississippi’s Desoto County. When contacted via phone, Farnum informed CNN that Lewis passed away from “natural causes.”
Lewis “told her, in his final days, that he embraced the afterlife, and that he was not afraid,” the statement continued. His seventh wife, Judith, was by his side when he passed away.
Lewis was one of the prominent figures of the 1950s rock era, along with Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and others. A superb showman knew as “The Killer,” Lewis was known for his raw, untamed performances that sent youthful admirers into spasmodic fits.
“I was born to be on a stage. I couldn’t wait to be on it. I dreamed about it. And I’ve been on one all my life,” Lewis said in “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story,” a 2014 biography by Rick Bragg. “That’s where I’m the happiest.”
The singer’s personal life, however, was tumultuous off-stage. When news of Lewis’ marriage to his first cousin Myra Gale Brown reached the public in 1958, he was at the height of his popularity. Lewis was 22 and she was 13 at the time.
Today, as we mourn the loss of Rock & Roll pioneer, "The Killer," Jerry Lee Lewis, we remember his iconic and dazzling musical showmanship – as seen here when he took the stage at the 14th #ACMawards in 1979 to perform "Rockin' My Life Away," as only he could. pic.twitter.com/czkI3kE0qj
— ACM Awards (@ACMawards) October 28, 2022
Lewis had traveled to London for a few shows when word of the wedding broke there. Lewis misled the media by stating that Myra was 15 years old, but the reality soon surfaced, sparking outrage as newspapers ran headlines like “Fans Aghast at Child Bride.” After three gigs, the tour was called off due to audience jeers directed toward Lewis.
Over the following ten years, Lewis kept on recording and performing, but his rockabilly music didn’t catch on during the Beatles’ era, and he struggled to reclaim his prior level of fame. That is until he made an unusual comeback as a country singer.
Lewis was born in Ferriday, Louisiana, in 1935 to a substandard farming family. Jimmy Swaggart, one of his relatives, would go on to become a well-known TV evangelist. According to Lewis’ website, he started playing the piano at the age of 9 and imitated local preachers and Black musicians.
Lewis moved to Sun Studios in Memphis in 1956 after quitting school to concentrate on his music, where he rapidly found employment as a session musician for rising stars like Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Along with Elvis Presley, he also recorded.
Sad to hear of the passing of Jerry Lee Lewis. Love his music and I was hugely influenced by his records and live performances which were always full of fire and inspiration! No one could touch him!
God Bless you, Jerry Lee ❤️👼🏼 pic.twitter.com/yp9DQr7z7D
— John Fogerty (@John_Fogerty) October 28, 2022
The “Million Dollar Quartet,” also known as Lewis, Presley, Perkins, and Cash, participated in a recording session in December 1956 that would go down in rock history as a turning point.
Lewis became well-known around the world the following year as a result of Top 5 hits like “Great Balls of Fire,” despite some radio stations banning his music due to his provocative appearance and suggestive lyrics.
After the scandal surrounding their marriage, Lewis’ aura was never quite the same.
He reinvented himself as a country musician in the late 1960s to resuscitate his career after a decade of declining sales. He continued to record Top 10 country hits far into the 1970s.
Lewis was the subject of the 1989 biopic “Great Balls of Fire!” with Dennis Quaid playing the lead role. Lewis even produced fresh takes on some of his classic songs for the score. His personal life, though, remained chaotic. He was married seven times and declared bankruptcy in 1988, alleging a $2 million debt to the IRS.
— Jyrice (@Jyrice) October 31, 2022
He also fought drug addiction, alcoholism, and other health issues for many years. He famously crashed his automobile into the gates of Graceland while trying to visit Presley in a drunken stupor in 1976, leading to his arrest there in the early hours of the morning with a loaded revolver.
“I ain’t no goody goody, and I ain’t no phony,” Lewis said in Bragg’s biography. “I never pretended to be anything, and anything I ever did, I did it wide-open as a case knife. I’ve lived my life to the fullest and I had a good time doin’ it.”
According to a message on his social media, Lewis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October but was unable to attend the ceremony due to being sick with the flu.
Giving The People A ‘Show’
Lewis struggled from time to time to balance his love of rock ‘n’ roll, which conservative audiences in the 1950s derided as “the devil’s music,” with his rigorous, religious upbringing.
Although he didn’t produce many original songs, he was excellent at reinterpreting others’ songs with his contagious boogie-woogie beats, which helped rockabilly music gain popularity.
But his uncontrolled piano-playing style, which had an impact on Elton John and many other performers, may have been his greatest enduring legacy. During performances, Lewis kicked over his piano stool, hit the keys with his fists and elbows, climbed up onto the piano, and even lit it on fire.
Jerry Lee Lewis, rock ‘n’ roll pioneer who sang ‘Great Balls of Fire,’ dies at 87 | CNN https://t.co/U2FYhMAFSx
— Webstories Ayurcure News (@an_webstories) October 31, 2022
He demonstrated that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t simply about the guitar in this way.
He became a part of the first class of musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, joining a galaxy of influential figures that included Berry, Presley, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, and the Everly Brothers.
Lewis spent the majority of his life on a ranch in northern Mississippi with a swimming pool in the shape of a piano. He was never able to completely escape the disgrace of marrying his young cousin. However, his vivacious live performances and contagious music made up for his failings in the eyes of his admirers.
In a tuxedo and tie or a tattered shirt and pair of blue jeans, it doesn’t matter as long as the audience sees the performance; “I want to be remembered as a rock and roll icon. What matters is the show. Everything is covered up,” he said to Bragg.
Any negative opinions someone may have ever had of you vanishes. “Was it the person who wed that girl?” Well, forget it; I’ll just listen to that tune.
Jerry Lee Lewis, outrageous rock ‘n’ roll star, dies at 87 https://t.co/5jupQC3szd
— _ReportWire (@_ReportWire) October 31, 2022
According to a statement from his representative, Lewis is survived by his wife, Judith Coghlan Lewis, his children Jerry Lee Lewis III, Ronnie Lewis, Pheobe Lewis, and Lori Lancaster, sister Linda Gail Lewis, cousin Swaggart, and a large number of grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
In the upcoming days, information on the services will be made public, the statement added. The Lewis family asked that memorial contributions be made in the singer’s honor to MusiCares or the Arthritis Foundation instead of flowers.
Jerry Lee Lewis, the untamable rock ‘n’ roll pioneer whose wild talent, energy, and ego came together in classic songs like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” dies early Friday morning at the age of 87.
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