Rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, lead singer of “Great Balls of Fire,” has died at 87

Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis has died aged 87.

Louisiana-born Lewis rose to fame thanks to classic songs like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” but he was also embroiled in controversy when he married his 13-year-old cousin Myra Gayle Brown.

In the late 1950s, the singer was part of the roster of influential rock ‘n’ roll artists on the Sun Records label in Memphis, Tennessee, which included Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison. He was known for his wild performances on the piano, running his hand all over the keyboard, knocking over his bench and even playing with his feet.

Lee was known by the nickname “The Killer” and his songs “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire” reached No. 3 and No. 2 respectively on the Billboard Hot 100. Both songs also topped the US country charts.

Although he scored another top 10 hit in 1958 with “Breathless,” Lewis’ career suffered after his marriage to Brown in 1957. Lewis was 22 at the time. The couple remained married until 1970, when Brown filed for divorce, citing allegations of abuse and infidelity.

Jerry Lee Lewis performs on the Palomino Stage during Day 1 of the 2017 Stagecoach California’s Country Music Festival at Empire Polo Club on April 28, 2017 in Indio, California.

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PHOTO: Jerry Lee Lewis performs at the Carlton Dinner Theater in Bloomington, Minnesota in 1988.

Jerry Lee Lewis performs at the Carlton Dinner Theater in Bloomington, Minnesota in 1988.

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Brown was actually Lewis’s third wife. He married for the first time at the age of 16 in 1952 and would marry seven times in his life. He is survived by his wife, Judith Lewis, the ex-wife of Brown’s brother, whom he married in 2012.

He had six children, but two died tragically – his son Steve drowned in a swimming pool at age 3, and Jerry Jr. died in a car accident at age 19.

Beginning in the late 1960s and into the 1980s, Lewis resumed his career as a successful country artist, releasing dozens of chart hits.

Lewis was part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of inductees in 1986. He was also inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2019 and the Country Music Hall of Fame earlier this year.

PHOTO: Jerry Lee Lewis seated at his piano, 1958.

Jerry Lee Lewis sitting at his piano, 1958.

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The singer’s life was chronicled in the 1989 biopic Great Balls of Fire, which starred Dennis Quaid and Winona Ryder as Myra.

“Jerry Lee was a Christian, an American icon and the world’s greatest pianist,” Quaid said in a statement Friday. “People will be listening to ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and ‘Whole Lot of Shakin’ 500 years from now.’ I’ll miss. God bless you Jerry Lee.

Lewis was also portrayed by Waylon Payne in the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line.

PHOTO: Singer Jerry Lee Lewis lounges in his dressing room on January 22, 1982.

Singer Jerry Lee Lewis lounges in his dressing room on January 22, 1982.

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His last studio album, Rock and Roll Time, was released in 2014 and featured guest appearances from several notable musicians, including Keith Richards, The Band’s Robbie Robertson, Neil Young and Nils Lofgren.

“As one of the most talented musicians and artists of our time, it warms my heart to know that he has been given the chance to accept his rightful place in the hallowed hall as a member of the newest class of inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame just a few weeks ago,” Country Music Association CEO Sarah Trahern said in a statement. “My deepest condolences to Jerry Lee’s family and friends during this time.”

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