Jerry Lee Lewis, rock ’n’ roll pioneer who sang ‘Great Balls of Fire,’ dies at 87
(CNN) — Jerry Lee Lewis, the piano-pounding, foot-stomping singer who electrified early rock ‘n’ roll with hits like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” before marital scandal derailed his career, has died, according to a statement from his representative, Zach Farnum. He was 87.
Lewis died at his home in Desoto County, Mississippi, south of Memphis, the statement said. Farnum told CNN that Lewis died of “natural causes” when reached by phone.
His seventh wife, Judith, was by his side when he died and Lewis “told her, in his final days, that he welcomed the hereafter, and that he was not afraid,” the statement added.
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, uninhibited performances drove young fans into spasmodic fits.
“I was born to be on a stage. I couldn’t wait to be on it. I dreamed about it. And I’ve been on one all my life,” Lewis said in “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story,” a 2014 biography by Rick Bragg. “That’s where I’m the happiest.”
But offstage, the singer’s personal life was turbulent. Lewis was near the peak of his popularity in 1958 when the public learned that he had married Myra Gale Brown, his first cousin. She was 13 at the time; Lewis was 22.
News of the marriage leaked in London, where Lewis had flown to play some concerts. Lewis told the press that Myra was 15, but the truth soon came out and caused an outcry, as newspapers blared such headlines as “Fans Aghast at Child Bride.” Audiences heckled Lewis, and the tour was canceled after three shows.
Lewis continued to record and tour over the next decade, but his rockabilly music didn’t sell in the Beatles era and he couldn’t regain the popularity of his early years – until he made an unlikely comeback as a country singer.