Jerry Lee Lewis dead at 87: Musician behind ‘Great Balls of Fire’ dies in Mississippi
Rock and roll pioneer and the man behind classic hit ‘Great Balls of Fire’, Jerry Lee Lewis has died.
He was 87 years old.
Lewis died at his home in the US state of Mississippi, south of Memphis, on Friday, US time, his management said.
In his final days, his wife Judith said he “was not afraid” of dying.
Lewis reached the peak of his popularity in the 1950s and was often spoken of alongside peers such as Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Chuck Berry.
But he was also infamous for marrying his 13 year old cousin and then falsely claiming she was older. The scandal would severely impact his career.
Lewis’ agent Zach Farnum said he had died of natural causes and was “perhaps the last true, great icon of the birth of rock’n’roll”.
“He was there at the beginning, with Elvis, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, and the rest, and watched them fade away one by one till it was him alone to bear witness, and sing of the birth of rock’n’roll,” Mr Farnum added in a statement reported the BBC.
Lewis was born in 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana, 320 km north of New Orleans. He began playing the piano at 9 impressed by the style of black preachers and musicians he would witness.
In 1956 he first recorded music in Memphis. A then outrageous style developed, including seemingly attacking the piano.
On one occasion he literally set a piano alight with petrol.
It would see Lewis become a super star of the rock and roll era.
Another huge hit was 1957’s ‘Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On’.
But his career hit a slump when he toured in the UK in 1958 and it was discovered he had married his 13 year old cousin Myra Gale Brown ate in 1957.
He was 22 at the time.
Myra had claimed she was 20 on the marriage certificate. When the marriage was uncovered Lewis had said she was 15.
“Fans aghast at child bride,” was one headline in a British newspaper. Lewis was heckled at concerts at the tour was canned after three shows.
The rockabilly era was also coming to an end, and with the scandal, Lewis’ career began to wane.
He nonetheless made something of a comeback in the 1960s as a country music star.
Controversy, however, continued to haunt Lewis.
In 1992, US taxation authorities slapped him with a $US4.1 million ($6.4 million) bill for back taxes and fines.
He was arrested in Memphis, in 1976 after he was found with a pistol demanding to see Elvis Presley at the start’s Graceland mansion.
He married seven times.
The Country Music Association said it was with “great sadness” it learned about the passing of Jerry Lee Lewis.
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones during this difficult time.”
Lewis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this month but was unable to attend the ceremony.