Rock ‘n’ roll star – and controversial figure – Jerry Lee Lewis, known for his 1957 hit Great Balls of Fire and subject of the film of the same name, has died aged 87.
As reported by Sky News, Jerry Lee Lewis died at his home in Memphis, Tennessee.
The rock ‘n’ roll pioneer – who called himself The Killer – was known for his hits ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ and was the last survivor of a generation of groundbreaking artists which included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.
Also known for his famous onstage extravaganzas, such as playing the piano standing up and even setting it on fire occasionally, he was even thrown chairs during a 1957 performance of ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ on a TV show. . He then said of himself: “There was rockabilly. There was Elvis. But there wasn’t pure rock ‘n’ roll until Jerry Lee Lewis knocked on the door.”
For a brief period, in 1958, he was also a candidate to replace Elvis as rock’s number one, after the latter had been drafted into the army.
It is the private life of the singer, marked by scandal, which will however turn his career upside down.
Indeed, while Lewis was filming in England, the press discovered that he was married to Myra Gale Brown, now Lewis, 13 (maybe even 12). She was his cousin and he was still married to his previous wife.
His tour was then canceled and the singer thus found himself on the radio blacklist: his income dropping to practically nothing overnight.
“I probably would have rearranged my life a little differently but I never hid anything from people“, he told the Wall Street Journal in 2014, when asked about the marriage in question. “I just carried on with my life as usual.”
Myra Gale Lewis, however, divorced the singer in the early 1970s and later denounced physical and mental cruelty that almost drove her to suicide.
“If I was still married to Jerry, I’d probably be dead by now,” she told People magazine in 1989.
Over the next few decades, Lewis – who married 7 times – struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, legal disputes and physical illness. Father of 6 children, he was also not spared by tragedy, having lost a first son, Steve Allen Lewis, who drowned in a swimming pool in 1962 at the age of 3, then a second, Jerry Lee Jr, who died in a traffic accident aged 19 in 1973.
But despite all that, the star reinvented himself as a country performer in the 1960s and the music industry seems to have finally forgiven him: he won 3 Grammys and recorded with some of the biggest stars in the world. industry including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Sheryl Crow and Tim McGraw.
In 1989, his controversial story was brought to life in the film Great Balls of Fire! by Jim McBride, a film based on a biography co-written by his ex-wife, Myra Gale Lewis herself, alongside Murray M. Silver Junior.
The feature film stars Dennis Quaid as Lewis and Winona Ryder as Myra Gale Lewis.
Among the tributes paid to the musician since his death, we can note that of Elton John who remembers him as a “pioneer inspiration”.
The veteran musician, who has previously cited Lewis as an influence for his love of the piano, shared a photo with him on his Instagram account and wrote: “Without Jerry Lee Lewis, I would not have become who I am today. It was revolutionary and exciting, and it shattered the piano. A brilliant singer too. Thank you for your pioneering inspiration and all the rock’n’roll memories.”
The Country Music Association also paid tribute to him and tweeted: “It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Jerry Lee Lewis, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this month.”