Jerry Lee Lewis, the irrepressible pioneer of rock and roll, died Friday morning at the age of 87. His career was otherwise derailed by personal scandal as his outrageous talent, energy and ego collided on classic records like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”
According to the release, Lewis died at his residence in Memphis, DeSoto County, Mississippi. When reached by phone, Farnum informed CNN that Lewis had died of “natural causes.”
Lewis “told her in his last days that he had embraced the afterlife and that he was not afraid,” the statement continued. His seventh wife, Judith, was by his side when he died.
Lewis was one of the prominent figures of the rock era of the 1950s, along with Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and others. A superb showman known as “The Killer”, Lewis was known for his raw, unbridled performances that sent young fans into convulsive fits.
“I was born to be on stage. I couldn’t wait to be a part of it. I dreamed about it. And I’ve been on one my whole life,” Lewis said in “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story,” a 2014 biography by Rick Bragg. “That’s where I’m happiest.”
However, the personal life of the singer was stormy off the stage. When news of Lewis’s marriage to his first cousin Myra Gale Brown reached the public in 1958, he was at the height of his popularity. Louis was 22 and she was 13 at the time.
Today, as we mourn the loss of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer “The Killer” Jerry Lee Lewis, we remember his iconic and dazzling musical show – as seen here when he took the stage on 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 concerts when he heard about the wedding there. Louis misled the media by claiming Mira was 15, but the reality soon surfaced, causing outrage as newspapers ran headlines such as ‘Fans shocked by Child Bride’. After three shows, the tour was canceled due to audience jeers directed at Lewis.
Over the next ten years, Lewis continued to record and perform, but his rockabilly music didn’t catch on during the Beatles era and he struggled to regain his previous level of fame. That was 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 become a famous television evangelist. According to Lewis’ website, he began playing the piano at age 9 and imitating local preachers and black musicians.
Lewis moved to Sun Studios in Memphis in 1956 after leaving school to concentrate on his music, where he quickly found work as a session musician for rising stars such as Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. He also recorded with Elvis Presley.
Sad to hear of the passing of Jerry Lee Lewis. I love his music and was greatly influenced by his recordings and live performances, which were always full of fire and inspiration! No one could touch it!
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 will go down in rock history as a turning point.
Lewis became well-known worldwide the following year as a result of Top 5 hits such as “Great Balls of Fire”, although some radio stations banned his music due to his provocative appearance and suggestive lyrics.
After the scandal surrounding their marriage, Louis’ aura was never the same.
He reinvented himself as a country musician in the late 1960s to revive his career after a decade of declining sales. He continued to score Top 10 country hits well into the 1970s.
Lewis was the subject of the 1989 biopic The Great Balls of Fire!, starring Dennis Quaid. Lewis even created fresh versions of some of his classic songs for the score. However, his personal life remains chaotic. He was married seven times and filed for bankruptcy in 1988, claiming he owed the IRS $2 million.
Jerry Lee Lewis, infamous rock ‘n’ roll star, dies at 87 https://t.co/NtHyDugdvF #jerrylelewis
— Jyrice (@Jyrice) October 31, 2022
He also struggled with drug addiction, alcoholism and other health problems for many years. He famously crashed his car into the gates of Graceland while trying to visit Presley while drunk in 1976, leading to his arrest there in the early hours of the morning with a loaded revolver.
“I’m not good good and I’m not fake,” Lewis says in Bragg’s biography. “I’ve never pretended to be anything and everything I’ve done, I’ve done it wide open like a knife. I was living my life to the fullest and having a good time doing it.”
According to a post 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 illness with the flu.
Giving people a “show”
Lewis struggled at times to balance his love of rock and roll, which conservative audiences in the 1950s derided as “the devil’s music,” with his strict religious upbringing.
Although he didn’t produce many original songs, he excelled at reinventing foreign songs with his infectious boogie-woogie rhythms that helped rockabilly music gain popularity.
But his uncontrolled piano playing style, which influenced Elton John and many other artists, is perhaps his greatest lasting legacy. During performances, Lewis kicks his piano chair, hits the keys with his fists and elbows, climbs on the piano and even sets 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
In this way, he demonstrated that rock and roll is not just a guitar.
He became part of the first class of musicians 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 Eternal Brothers.
Lewis spent most of his life on a ranch in northern Mississippi with a piano-shaped swimming pool. He never fully escaped the disgrace of marrying his young cousin. However, his lively live performances and infectious music made up for his shortcomings in the eyes of his fans.
In a tuxedo and tie or a tattered shirt and a pair of blue jeans, it doesn’t matter as long as the audience is watching the performance; “I want to be remembered as a rock and roll icon. What matters is the show. Everything is hidden, he told Bragg.
Any negative opinions anyone ever had about you disappear. “Was that the guy who married that girl?” Well, forget it; I’ll just listen to this tune.
Jerry Lee Lewis, the infamous 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, children Jerry Lee Lewis III, Ronnie Lewis, Pheobe Lewis and Lori Lancaster, sister Linda Gail Lewis, cousin Swaggart and numerous grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
In the coming days, information about the services will be announced, the message also says. The Lewis family has requested that memorial donations be made in the singer’s honor to MusiCares or the Arthritis Foundation in lieu of flowers.
Jerry Lee Lewis, the indomitable 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,” died early Friday morning at the age of 87.
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