Jerry Lee Lewis, the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer who sang “The Great Balls of Fire,” has died at the age of 87.
Jerry Lee Lewis, the piano-strumming, foot-stomping singer who electrified early rock ‘n’ roll with hits like “Big Balls” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” has died before marital strife derailed his career. according to a statement from his spokesman Zach Farnum. He was 87 years old.
Lewis died at his home in DeSoto County, Mississippi, south of Memphis, the release said. Farnum told CNN by phone that Lewis died of “natural causes.”
His seventh wife, Judith, was by his side when he died, and Lewis “told her in his last days that he would welcome the end and not fear it,” the affidavit said.
Along with Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and others, Lewis was one of the leading figures of the 1950s rock era and a master showman nicknamed “The Killer,” whose raw, no-holds-barred performances sent young fans into spasmodic fits.
“I was born to be on stage. I couldn’t wait to be a part of it. I dreamed about it. I’ve been in one all my life,” Lewis said in Rick Bragg’s 2014 biography, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Personal Story. “Here I am the happiest.”
But outside the scene, the personal life of the singer was turbulent. In 1958, the public was near the peak of Lewis’ popularity when it was discovered that he had married his first cousin, Myra Gale Brown. He was 13 at the time; Lewis was 22 years old.
News of the marriage spread in London, where Lewis flew to some concerts. Lewis told the press that Myra was 15 years old, but the truth soon came out, causing an outcry as newspapers ran headlines that read, “Fans Furious at Child Bride.” Audiences turned on Lewis, and the tour was canceled after three shows.
Lewis continued to record and tour for the next decade, but his rockabilly music didn’t sell during the Beatles era, and he never regained the popularity of his early years—until he made an unlikely comeback as a country singer.
Lewis was born in Ferriday, Louisiana in 1935 to a poor farming family. One of his cousins, Jimmy Swaggart, would become a popular television evangelist. Lewis’ website says he began playing the piano at age 9, following the style of preachers and black musicians who passed through the area.
Leaving school to focus on playing music, Lewis attended Sun Studios in Memphis in 1956, where he quickly found work as a session player for emerging stars such as Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. He also recorded with Elvis Presley.
A December 1956 recording session with Lewis, Presley, Perkins, and Cash, nicknamed the “Million Dollar Quartet,” was a pivotal moment in rock history.
The following year, with top 5 hits such as “Great Balls of Fire”, Lewis gained international recognition, although his fiery style and catchy lyrics led some radio stations to boycott his songs.
Then came the marital scandal, and Lewis’s aura was never the same.
After a decade of declining sales, he reinvented himself as a country artist in the late 1960s and revived his career, scoring top 10 country hits in the seventies.
1989’s Balls of Fire!, starring Dennis Quaid Lewis biopic brought new attention to Lewis’ life and music. Lewis even recorded new versions of his hits for the soundtrack.
But his personal life remained a mess. He was married seven times and filed for bankruptcy in 1988, claiming he owed the IRS more than $2 million.
He also struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction and other health problems over the years. In a famous 1976 episode, he was arrested in the early hours of the morning at Graceland after crashing his car into a mansion gate with a loaded gun while trying to visit Presley.
Lewis said in his autobiography of Bragg, “I am neither a good man nor a liar.” “I never pretended to be anything, and whatever I did, I did it as bluntly as a knife. I lived my life to the fullest and had a great time with it.”
Lewis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in October, but was unable to attend the ceremony due to the flu, according to a statement posted on social media.
Lewis grew up in a strict, religious family and sometimes struggled to reconcile his faith in God with his love of rock and roll, which conservative listeners in the 1950s denounced as “the devil’s music.”
He didn’t write many songs, but he excelled at reinterpreting other people’s compositions with his infectious, boogie-woogie rhythms, which helped bring rockabilly music into the mainstream.
But his most lasting legacy may be his piano playing style, which influenced Elton John and many other musicians. During concerts, Lewis punched and elbowed the keys, kicked the piano stool, climbed on top of the instrument, and once even set it on fire.
In this way, he showed that rock and roll is not only about the guitar.
In 1986, he joined the constellation of Berry, Presley, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fat Domino, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Everly Brown as the first group of artists to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Glory.
Lewis spent most of his life on a ranch north of Mississippi with a piano-shaped pool. She never got over the scandal of marrying her young cousin. But for his fans, his infectious music and his live shows more than made up for his personal misdeeds.
“I want to be remembered as a rock ‘n’ roll idol, wearing a suit and tie or blue jeans and a ripped shirt and it doesn’t matter, as long as people see the show. Show, this is important. It hides everything,” he told Bragg.
“Any bad thoughts about you will disappear. “Is he the one who took that girl?” So, forget it, let me listen to this song.”
Lewis is survived by his wife Judith Coghlan Lewis, children Jerry Lee Lewis III, Ronnie Lewis, Pheobe Lewis and Lori Lancaster, sister Linda Gayle Lewis, cousin Swaggart and numerous nieces, nephews and nieces, according to a statement from his representative.
Information about the services will be announced in the coming days, the message said.
In lieu of flowers, the Lewis family has asked that donations be made in the singer’s honor to the Arthritis Foundation or MusiCares.
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