Jerry Lee Lewis, one of the pioneers of a movement of music that became known as Rock n Roll has died. He was 87 years old.
Lewis was considered to be the last surviving member of a group of performers that spearheaded the Rock n Roll movement. This group included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard. At the time, this movement was considered somewhat rebellious to the music scene
He is best known for hits such as Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On.
While Elvis Presley was the most successful act of the Rock N Roll movement, many saw Lewis as potentially a contender to succeed him. This was especially true when Presley was drafter into military service. That all changed in 1958 when word came out that Lewis married his 13-year old (and some speculated 12-year old) first-cousin, Myra Gale Brown while he still was married to his previous wife. Brown was the third of what would be a total of seven different marriages for Lewis throughout his lifetime.
Following the Brown scandal, his career spiraled downward. A tour he was on was cancelled and he was blacklisted from radio. His earnings evaporated.
Drug and alcohol addiction, legal disputes, and physical illness would follow. Brown would divorce Lewis in 1970 and would later accuse him of physical and mental cruelty that she said nearly led to her own suicide.
Lewis reestablished himself in the 1960s as a Country musician. He met with various Disc Jockeys nationwide to convince him to replay his music.
Meanwhile Lewis’ reckless behavior continued throughout his life. In November, 1976, after wrecking his Rolls-Royce in a drunk-driving accident, he was arrested, intoxicated, with a loaded pistol after trying to visit Elvis Presley at his Graceland estate. Earlier that year, he shot his bassist Butch Owens in the chest. Owens survived, and only most of the charges were dropped.
His financial problems didn’t go away. In 1979, the IRS seized property from Lewis to compensate a $274,000 tax debt. In 1984, he was found innocent of evading taxes. However, the next year, the IRS seized property from Lewis’ ranch in Nesbit, Mississippi. By 1988, Lewis filed for bankruptcy, petitioning that he was more than $3 million in debt, including $2 million he owed to the IRS.
In 1986, along with Elvis, Chuck Berry and others, he was a part of the inaugural class of inductees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He won a Grammy in 1987 as part of an interview album that was cited for best spoken word recording. His life story was captured in the 1989 film, Great Balls of Fire.
Jerry Lee Lewis is survived by his seventh wife, Judith Coghlan Lewis, his children Jerry Lee Lewis III, Ronnie Lewis, Pheobe Lewis and Lori Lancaster, sister Linda Gail Lewis, cousin Jimmy Swaggart and many grandchildren, nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents Elmo and Mamie Lewis, sons Steve Allen Lewis and Jerry Lee Lewis Jr., his siblings Elmo Lewis Jr. and Frankie Jean Lewis and his cousin Mickey Gilley.
According to a post on Lewis’ social media pages, services and more information will be announced in the following days. In lieu of flowers, the Lewis family requests donations be made in Jerry Lee Lewis’ honor to the Arthritis Foundation or MusiCares – the non-profit foundation of the GRAMMYs / National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Photo Credit: Jerry Lewis Public Domain
Long live The Killer.
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