Jerry Lee Lewis dead at 87


Jerry Lee Lewis, the untamable rock `n’ roll pioneer whose outrageous expertise, power and ego collided on such definitive information as “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and sustained a profession in any other case upended by private scandal, died Friday morning at 87.

The final survivor of a era of groundbreaking performers that included Elvis Presley, Chuck (*87*) and Little Richard, Lewis died at his Mississippi dwelling, south of Memphis, Tennessee, consultant Zach Farnum stated in a launch. The information got here two days after the publication of an faulty TMZ report of his demise, later retracted.

Of all of the rock rebels to emerge within the Fifties, few captured the brand new style’s attraction and hazard as unforgettably because the Louisiana-born piano participant who referred to as himself “The Killer.”

Tender ballads had been finest left to the previous of us. Lewis was all about lust and gratification, together with his leering tenor and demanding asides, violent tempos and brash glissandi, cocky sneer and insane blond hair. He was a one-man stampede who made the followers scream and the keyboards swear, his stay act so flamable that in a 1957 efficiency of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” on “The Steve Allen Show,” chairs had been thrown at him like buckets of water on an inferno.

“There was rockabilly. There was Elvis. But there was no pure rock ‘n ‘roll earlier than Jerry Lee Lewis kicked within the door,” a Lewis admirer as soon as noticed. That admirer was Jerry Lee Lewis.

But in his non-public life, he raged in ways in which might need ended his profession right this moment — and almost did again then.

For a short time, in 1958, he was a contender to exchange Presley as rock’s prime hitmaker after Elvis was drafted into the Army. But whereas Lewis toured in England, the press discovered three damaging issues: He was married to 13-year-old (probably even 12-year-old) Myra Gale Brown, she was his cousin, and he was nonetheless married to his earlier spouse. His tour was cancelled, he was blacklisted from the radio and his earnings dropped in a single day to just about nothing.

“I in all probability would have rearranged my life slightly bit completely different, however I by no means did disguise something from individuals,” Lewis advised the Wall Street Journal in 2014 when requested concerning the marriage. “I simply went on with my life as regular.”

Over the next many years, Lewis struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, authorized disputes and bodily sickness. Two of his many marriages led to his spouse’s early demise. Brown herself divorced him within the early Seventies and would later allege bodily and psychological cruelty that almost drove her to suicide.

“If I used to be nonetheless married to Jerry, I’d in all probability be dead by now,” she advised People journal in 1989.

Lewis reinvented himself as a rustic performer within the Nineteen Sixties, and the music business finally forgave him, lengthy after he stopped having hits. He received three Grammys, and recorded with a few of the business’s biggest stars. In 2006, Lewis got here out with “Last Man Standing,” that includes Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King and George Jones. In 2010, Lewis introduced in Jagger, Keith Richards, Sheryl Crow, Tim McGraw and others for the album “Mean Old Man.”

In “The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll,” first printed in 1975, he recalled how he persuaded disc jockeys to provide him a second probability.

“This time I stated, `Look, man, let’s get collectively and draw a line on these things — a peace treaty you already know,”‘ he defined. Lewis would nonetheless play the previous hits on stage, however on the radio he would sing nation.

Lewis had a run of high 10 nation hits between 1967-70, and hardly mellowed at all. He carried out ingesting songs reminiscent of “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)”, the roving eye confessions of “She Still Comes Around” and a dry-eyed cowl of a traditional ballad of abandonment, “She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye.” He had remained fashionable in Europe and a 1964 album, “Live at the Star Club, Hamburg,” is extensively considered one of many biggest live performance information.

A 1973 efficiency proved extra troublesome: Lewis sang for the Grand Ole Opry and broke two longstanding guidelines — no swearing and no non-country songs.

“I’m a rock and rollin’, country-and-western, rhythm and blues-singin’ mother—–,” he advised the viewers.

Lewis married seven occasions, and was hardly ever removed from hassle or demise. His fourth spouse, Jaren Elizabeth Gunn Pate, drowned in a swimming pool in 1982 whereas suing for divorce. His fifth spouse, Shawn Stephens, 23 years his junior, died of an obvious drug overdose in 1983. Within a 12 months, Lewis had married Kerrie McCarver, then 21. She filed for divorce in 1986, accusing him of bodily abuse and infidelity. He countersued, however each petitions finally had been dropped. They lastly divorced in 2005 after a number of years of separation. The couple had one youngster, Jerry Lee III.

Another son by a earlier marriage, Steve Allen Lewis, 3, drowned in a swimming pool in 1962, and son Jerry Lee Jr. died in a visitors accident at 19 in 1973. Lewis additionally had two daughters, Phoebe and Lori Leigh, and is survived by his spouse Judith.

His funds had been additionally chaotic. Lewis made hundreds of thousands, however he favored his cash in money and ended up owing a whole lot of 1000’s of {dollars} to the Internal Revenue Service. When he started welcoming vacationers in 1994 to his longtime residence close to Nesbit, Mississippi — full with a piano-shaped swimming pool — he arrange a 900 cellphone quantity followers may name for a recorded message at $2.75 a minute.

The son of one-time bootlegger Elmo Lewis and the cousin of TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and nation star Mickey Gilley, Lewis was born in Ferriday, Louisiana. As a boy, he first discovered to play guitar, however discovered the instrument too confining and longed for an instrument that solely the wealthy individuals in his city may afford — a piano. His life modified when his father pulled up in his truck someday and introduced him with a darkish wooden, upright set of keyboards.

“My eyes nearly fell out of my head,” Lewis recalled in “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story,” written by Rick Bragg and printed in 2014.

He took to the piano instantly and started sneaking off to Black juke joints and absorbing every part from gospel to boogie-woogie. Conflicted early on between secular and sacred music, he stop college at 16, with plans of turning into a piano-playing preacher. Lewis briefly attended Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas, a fundamentalist Bible school, however was expelled, reportedly, for enjoying the “flawed” form of music.

“Great Balls of Fire,” a sexualized tackle Biblical imagery that Lewis initially refused to report, and “Whole Lotta Shakin”‘ had been his most enduring songs and efficiency items. Lewis had solely a handful of different pop hits, together with “High School Confidential” and “Breathless,” however they had been sufficient to make sure his place as a rock `n’ roll architect.

“No group, be it (the) Beatles, Dylan or Stones, have ever improved on `Whole Lotta Shakin” for my cash,” John Lennon would inform Rolling Stone in 1970.

A roadhouse veteran by his early 20s, Lewis took off for Memphis in 1956 and confirmed up at the studios of Sun Records, the musical dwelling of Elvis, Perkins and Cash. Told by firm founder Sam Phillips to go study some rock `n roll, Lewis returned and shortly hurried off “Whole Lotta Shakin”‘ in a single take.

“I knew it was successful after I lower it,” he later stated. “Sam Phillips thought it was gonna be too risque, it could not make it. If that is risque, properly, I’m sorry.”

In 1986, together with Elvis, Chuck (*87*) and others, he made the inaugural class of inductees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and joined the Country Hall of Fame this 12 months. The Killer not solely outlasted his contemporaries however noticed his life and music periodically reintroduced to youthful followers, together with the the 1989 biopic “Great Balls of Fire,” starring Dennis Quaid, and Ethan Coen’s 2022 documentary “Trouble in Mind.” A 2010 Broadway musical, “Million Dollar Quartet,” was impressed by a recording session that featured Lewis, Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

He received a Grammy in 1987 as a part of an interview album that was cited for best-spoken phrase recording, and he obtained a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2005. The following 12 months, “Whole Lotta Shakin”‘ was chosen for the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, whose board praised the “propulsive boogie piano that was completely complemented by the drive of J.M. Van Eaton’s energetic drumming. The listeners to the recording, like Lewis himself, had a tough time remaining seated in the course of the efficiency.”

A classmate at Bible college, Pearry Green, remembered assembly Lewis years later and asking if he was nonetheless taking part in the satan’s music.

“Yes, I’m,” Lewis answered. “But you already know it is unusual, the identical music that they kicked me out of college for is similar form of music they play of their church buildings right this moment. The distinction is, I do know I’m taking part in for the satan they usually do not.”


This story has been up to date to make clear the place Lewis’ house is positioned.



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