Jerry Lee Lewis, outrageous rock ‘n’ roll star, dies at 87

Jerry Lee Lewis, the untamable rock ‘n’ roll pioneer whose outrageous expertise, power and ego collided on such definitive information as “Nice Balls of Fireplace” and “Complete 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 technology of groundbreaking performers that included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, Lewis died at his Mississippi dwelling, south of Memphis, Tennessee, consultant Zach Farnum mentioned in a launch. The information got here two days after the publication of an misguided TMZ report of his loss of life, later retracted.

Of all of the rock rebels to emerge within the Nineteen 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Tender ballads had been greatest left to the outdated people. Lewis was all about lust and gratification, together with his leering tenor and demanding asides, violent tempos and brash glissandi, cocky sneer and loopy blond hair. He was a one-man stampede who made the followers scream and the keyboards swear, his reside act so flamable that in a 1957 efficiency of “Complete Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” on “The Steve Allen Present,” chairs had been thrown at him like buckets of water on an inferno.

“There was rockabilly. There was Elvis. However 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.

However in his non-public life, he raged in ways in which may need ended his profession as we speak — and practically did again then.

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

“I most likely would have rearranged my life a bit bit totally different, however I by no means did cover something from folks,” Lewis instructed the Wall Road Journal in 2014 when requested in regards to the marriage. “I simply went on with my life as common.”

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

“If I used to be nonetheless married to Jerry, I’d most likely be useless by now,” she instructed Individuals journal in 1989.

Lewis reinvented himself as a rustic performer within the Sixties, and the music business ultimately forgave him, lengthy after he stopped having hits. He gained three Grammys, and recorded with a number of the business’s biggest stars. In 2006, Lewis got here out with “Final 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 “Imply Previous Man.”

In “The Rolling Stone Illustrated Historical past of Rock & Roll,” first revealed in 1975, he recalled how he satisfied disc jockeys to offer him a second probability.

“This time I mentioned, ‘Look, man, let’s get collectively and draw a line on these items — a peace treaty you recognize,’” he defined. Lewis would nonetheless play the outdated hits on stage, however on the radio he would sing nation.

Lewis had a run of prime 10 nation hits between 1967-70, and hardly mellowed in any respect. He carried out consuming songs corresponding to “What’s Made Milwaukee Well-known (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)”, the roving eye confessions of “She Nonetheless Comes Round” and a dry-eyed cowl of a basic ballad of abandonment, “She Even Woke Me As much as Say Goodbye.” He had remained in style in Europe and a 1964 album, “Stay on the Star Membership, Hamburg,” is broadly thought to be 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’ motherf—–,” he instructed the viewers.

Lewis married seven instances, and was not often removed from bother or loss of life. 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. Inside 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 ultimately had been dropped. They lastly divorced in 2005 after a number of years of separation. The couple had one baby, Jerry Lee III.

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One other 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 appreciated his cash in money and ended up owing tons of of 1000’s of {dollars} to the Inside Income 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 might 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 folks in his city might afford — a piano. Hips life modified when his father pulled up in his truck in the future and introduced him a dark-wood, upright piano.

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

He took to the piano instantly, and commenced sneaking off to Black juke joints and absorbing all the things from gospel to boogie-woogie. Conflicted early on between secular and scared music, he stop faculty at 16, with plans of changing into a piano-playing preacher. Lewis briefly attended Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, a fundamentalist Bible school, however was expelled, reportedly, for taking part in the “unsuitable” form of music.

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

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“No group, be it (the) Beatles, Dylan or Stones, have ever improved on ‘Complete 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 on the studios of Solar Information, the musical dwelling of Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Money. Instructed by firm founder Sam Phillips to go be taught some rock ‘n roll, Lewis returned and shortly hurried off “Complete Lotta Shakin’” in a single take.

“I knew it was a success once I minimize it,” he later mentioned. “Sam Phillips thought it was gonna be too risque, it couldn’t make it. If that’s risque, nicely, I’m sorry.”

In 1986, together with Elvis, Chuck Berry and others, he made the inaugural class of inductees for the Rock & Roll Corridor of Fame and joined the Nation Corridor 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 1989 biopic “Nice Balls of Fireplace,” starring Dennis Quaid, and Ethan Coen’s 2022 documentary “Bother in Thoughts.” A 2010 Broadway music, “Million Greenback Quartet,” was impressed by a recording session that featured Lewis, Elvis, Perkins and Money.

He gained a Grammy in 1987 as a part of an interview album that was cited for greatest spoken phrase recording, and he obtained a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2005. The next 12 months, “Complete Lotta Shakin’” was chosen for the Library of Congress’ Nationwide 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 throughout the efficiency.”

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

“Sure, I’m,” Lewis answered. “However you recognize it’s unusual, the identical music that they kicked me out of faculty for is identical form of music they play of their church buildings as we speak. The distinction is, I do know I’m taking part in for the satan and so they don’t.”


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