Jerry Lee Lewis, the kingpin who created the 1950s American rock and roll scandal and who played a pivotal role in shaping the genre’s sound, died Friday at the age of 87. Best known for his classic “Great Balls of Fire,” famous for its flowing blonde rock, rowdy piano beats and outrageous stage presence, the star died of natural causes, his publicist says. a spokesperson told AFP.
“He is ready to leave,” an accompanying statement quoted the artist’s wife Judith.
Elvis Presley’s friend and rival, Lewis, whose career spanned more than half a century, has raised eyebrows over his many wives, including a teenage cousin, on a drunken rampage and clashed with the government over tax returns. It has created a rich story that hides the
He has also created a number of timeless hits. Born in Feriday, Louisiana on September 29, 1935, Lewis took the keys at the age of nine. The following year, his parents Elmo and Mamie mortgaged the family farm and purchased an upright piano for him. Along with his cousins Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart (who would go on to become his award-winning country musician and scandal-tainted evangelist, respectively), Lewis spent hours perfecting his craft. also spent
In 1956, Lewis headed to Memphis, Tennessee, a South American city famous for being the birthplace of soul, blues and rock, and partnered with Sun Records producer Sam Phillips, who helped Presley rise to astronomical heights.
Lewis, Presley and Johnny Cash met with Carl Perkins in the studio for that year’s “Million Dollar Quartet” jam session. Lewis rose to fame the following year with his breakout hit, “Whole Lotta Shakin ‘Goin’ On.” Its provocative lyrics shocked some radio stations who initially refused to play it. “It was just another song for me,” he told The New York Times in 2006.
His follow-up, “Great Balls of Fire,” was one of the best-selling singles of all time and was also the name of the 1989 docudrama about Lewis, starring actor Dennis Quaid. In 2018, Lewis, nicknamed “The Killer,” skyrocketed, fans packed the show, money poured in, and his third hit, “Breathless,” rocketed up the charts.
At a time when even a slight lower-body rotation by Presley was a sensation, Lewis took it even further, tapping the keys with his hands and feet, jumping on top of a grand piano and cheering.
“Who would have thought that was me?” A publicist statement quoted the rocker as saying on his last day. Lore has it that Lewis even set the piano on fire in an attempt to outsmart guitarist Chuck Berry, who was stuck in the final slot that same night.
Elton John tweeted that he “wouldn’t be who he is today” without Lewis, calling Lewis a “pioneering inspiration”. “He was groundbreaking, inspiring, and shattered the piano.”
But when Lewis embarked on a tour of England in 1958, everything fell apart. There, the press discovered that Lewis had married her 13-year-old cousin Myra Gail Brown. “I knew it was bad, I knew it was wrong,” Lewis later told The Washington Post.
His return to the states was also a rude awakening, as Lewis found himself blacklisted from radio and television. He went out to one-night shows in bars and minor clubs. “To go from $10,000 a night to him $250 is an utter disappointment,” Lewis said.
For most of the 1960s, Lewis was marginalized, overshadowed by the next generation like the Beatles, as his illegitimate marriage would forever tarnish his legacy. But he continued to inspire his celebrity successors.
When they met in the early 1970s, John Lennon knelt down and kissed Lewis’ feet, telling him, “You’re the man who made it possible for me to be a star in rock and roll music.” I kind of froze,” Lewis told GQ in the moment.
Seeking a fresh start, Lewis jumped into country music. He has also re-recorded some of his classical songs. In 1986, he was part of the first class to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alongside such greats as Presley, Berry, James Brown, Ray He Charles.
He received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2005. In his later years, the studio collaborated with Mick His Jagger and Eric Clapton on his albums. “Your song brightened up my life!” Jagger tweeted. Lee’s personal life continued to prove concerned and stormy.The couple divorced after a 14-year marriage to Myra, who accused the singer of physical and emotional abuse.
Lewis was married twice before Myra and then four times. He had 6 children. One died in a pool accident when he was a toddler and his other in a car accident. In 1993, an argument with the U.S. government over tax returns led to officials seizing a piano, furniture, and other personal items to pay off debts.
A notorious heavy drinker, Lewis occasionally relied on prescription drugs. Although his stroke in 2019 cut his schedule short, he toured extensively in his later years. “I want all my wives to remember me when they look back on me.”