Jerry Lee Lewis, Controversial Rock Legend, Dies at 87
Jerry Lee Lewis, one of the fathers of rock 'n' roll, died Friday in Memphis, according to 117 Entertainment. He was 87.
The announcement comes several days after TMZ erroneously reported the larger-than-life rockabilly legend had died, a report that was quickly retracted.
Lewis' legacy is tattered — while undeniably one of the greats of the new form that was made popular by peers like Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry, he will always be known for his marriage, at 22, to his first cousin once removed, Myra Gale Brown, who was just 13 at the time. It was a union that shattered his status as a rising star, though he did recover professionally and continued working most of his life.
Born September 29, 1935, in Ferriday, Louisiana, Lewis began recording in 1956 at Sun Records in Memphis. His record "Crazy Arms" was a smash throughout the American South, and his Top 3 1957 single "Whole Lotta Shakin'" made him an international superstar and established him as one of the great pianists of the century.
In quick succession, Lewis made music history with "Great Balls of Fire" (a #2 hit in 1957, and universally acknowledged as one of rock's most indelible statements), "Breathless" (1958), and "High School Confidential" (1958).
Lewis was married at 16 for less than two years, and was next married for four years, though his second marriage overlapped his first.
Before his second divorce was finalized, Lewis wed Brown in 1957, lying about her age, claiming she was 15. When word got out about his child bride — and his serial bigamy — Lewis' popularity cratered.
Following a lesser success with the cover "What'd I Say" in 1961, Lewis continued his acclaimed live shows, then switched to country in the late '60s. That fanbase accepted his past, and he enjoyed huge successes on the country charts, including the chart-toppers "To Make Love Sweeter for You" (1968), "There Must Be More to Love Than This" (1970), "Me and Bobby McGee" (1971), "Would You Take Another Chance on Me" (1971), and "Chantilly Lace" (1972).
Lewis' importance in rock history has never been doubted. Rolling Stone named him one of rock's 100 greatest acts, he was an inaugural inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, he enjoyed hit singles on the country charts through the mid-'80s, and his 2006 album release "Last Man Standing" — a duets album — was the biggest seller of his career.
The legend of Lewis was immortalized in the film "Great Balls of Fire!" (1989), starring Dennis Quaid as Lewis. The movie was based on a book that started out as his ex-wife Myra's story of triumph over an abusive marriage, but that had been edited into the story of Lewis' rocky career that included not only his many marital misadventures, but an arrest for allegedly attempting to shoot Elvis Presley in 1976 and battles with the IRS.
All told, he was married seven times. Lewis is survived by his wife Judith and by four of his children.