Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock ‘N’ Roll Star and Great Balls of Fire Singer Dies at the Age of 87 | Entities and news on the arts


Rock ‘n’ roll star Jerry Lee Lewis, best known for the 1957 hit Great Balls of Fire, has died at the age of 87.

Lewis died at home in Memphis, Tennessee, his rep Zach Farnum confirmed.

The pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll – who called himself The Killer – was also known for the song Whole Lotta Shakin ‘Goin’ On and was the last survivor of a generation of revolutionary artists that included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

He was once described as “a hasty man”. During a 1957 performance of Whole Lotta Shakin ‘Goin’ On for a TV show, chairs were thrown at him.

“There was rockabilly. There was Elvis. But there was no pure rock ‘n’ roll before Jerry Lee Lewis kicked the door,” famously said of himself after the show.

However, his private life was bogged down by the scandal.

Jerry Lee Lewis delivers a special performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York on March 14, 2005. REUTERS / Mike Segar MS
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Jerry Lee Lewis performs at the induction ceremony of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York in 2005

For a short time, in 1958, he was a contender to replace Presley as number one in rock after Elvis he was drafted into the army.

But while Lewis was on tour in England, the press found out that he was married to 13-year-old (possibly even 12-year-old) Myra Gale Brown. She was his cousin and he was still married to his former wife.

His tour was canceled, he was blacklisted by the radio, and his earnings dropped to practically zero overnight.

“I probably would have rearranged my life a little differently, but I’ve never hidden anything from people,” Lewis told the Wall Street Journal in 2014 when asked about the wedding. “I just went on with my life as usual.”

“Mental cruelty”

Over the ensuing decades, Lewis, who has been married seven times, struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, legal disputes, and physical illness.

Brown divorced him in the early 1970s and would later claim that physical and mental cruelty nearly led to her suicide.

“If I were still married to Jerry, I would probably be dead by now,” she told People magazine in 1989.

Lewis reinvented himself as a country artist in the 1960s and the music industry eventually forgave him.

He has won three Grammys and recorded with some of the biggest stars in the industry, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Sheryl Crow and Tim McGraw.

Lewis had six children. One son, Steve Allen Lewis, drowned in a swimming pool in 1962 at the age of three, and another, Jerry Lee Jr, died in a car accident at age 19 in 1973.

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