Jerry Lee Lewis, the rock ’n’ roll trailblazer and piano virtuoso who electrified audiences together with his raucous, free-wheeling performances however attracted scandal after he married his 13-year-old cousin, died Friday, his publicist stated.
He was 87.
Lewis “suffered by means of the final years of his life from numerous sicknesses and accidents that, his physicians have usually stated, ought to have taken him a long time in the past,” an obituary by Rick Bragg, his biographer, stated.
He handed away together with his spouse, Judith, at his facet at his house in DeSoto County, Mississippi, positioned south of Memphis.
“He instructed her, in his ultimate days, that he welcomed the hereafter, and that he was not afraid,” the obituary stated.
It cited Judith as saying, “He is able to depart,” simply earlier than his dying.
Lewis was a consummate showman who gleefully blended the kinds of Black rhythm-and-blues musicians, nation crooners and ecstatic Pentecostal preachers. He was nicknamed “the Killer,” and his admirers believed he could possibly be the subsequent Elvis Presley.
In performances on phases and tv screens, Lewis delighted audiences with flamboyant shenanigans. He stomped on his piano, tapped the keys together with his ft and hopped round with devil-may-care verve whereas belting out in style songs like “Nice Balls of Hearth.”
“He pounded the piano with such abandon that it’s a marvel it didn’t come aside. He’s a defiant, reckless, indefatigable wild man that may rock you into oblivion,” the Rock & Roll Corridor of Fame stated when he was inducted in 1986.
However his private life got here below intense scrutiny within the late Fifties, primarily derailing his rock profession. In the midst of a 1958 tour of England, the press realized that he had married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, who was additionally the daughter of his bass participant.
The wedding drew fierce condemnation on each side of the pond, resulting in boycotts of his music and clipping his high-flying ambitions. He continued to file tracks and carry out, however the scandal solid a shadow over the remainder of his public life.
Lewis was born Sept. 29, 1935, in Ferriday, Louisiana, into an impoverished family. He began enjoying the piano at 9, and his father — a carpenter and bootlegger — was stated to have mortgaged their home to purchase a piano.
The younger Lewis mimicked the creative kinds and public personas of an area preacher and Black musicians he noticed enjoying at native venues. He was quickly a performer in his personal proper, honing his craft in school assemblies and expertise reveals.
“Once I sit down, I do really feel like I’m preaching by means of the piano, like a sermon,” he recalled in a 2014 interview with The Wall Road Journal. “It’s a God-given expertise, and it’s bought to return out. I do know I’ve touched lots of lives that manner. It’s simply the church coming by means of the music.”
Impressed by the success of Elvis, Lewis ultimately landed on the Solar Information label in Memphis, Tennessee. He pumped out a collection of rockabilly hits for Solar, together with “Complete Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Nice Balls of Hearth” and “Breathless,” burnishing his standing within the music business.
“You shake my nerves and also you rattle my mind / An excessive amount of love drives a person insane,” Lewis memorably sang in “Nice Balls of Hearth,” precisely summing up the wild-eyed depth of his musical model.
American rock was described by some Eisenhower-era detractors as “the satan’s music.” Lewis, a cousin of the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, was born right into a strict Christian family, however he appeared to revel within the libidinous indulgence of his artwork.
He was stated to have been troubled by the contradiction.
Lewis’ potential as a rock star appeared limitless within the Fifties, and in 1958 he launched into a 37-date tour by means of England. However the journey was upended after the press realized of his 1957 marriage to his underage cousin.
His marriage to his earlier spouse was nonetheless legally legitimate, too.
London newspapers ran scathing editorials, the tour was lower quick, and the furor unfold throughout the U.S. Lewis’ single “Excessive College Confidential” did not climb the pop charts, live performance promoters refused to guide him, and radio stations successfully froze him out.
“I in all probability would have rearranged my life a bit of bit completely different, however I by no means did disguise something from individuals,” he instructed The Wall Road Journal in 2014. “The newspapers in England got here down heavy however they didn’t faze me, actually. I simply went on with my life as regular.”
He was compelled to start out enjoying obscure venues, firmly on the perimeters of the mainstream. He began to regain his footing within the Sixties, pivoting to the nation style and discovering renewed success that stretched into the Nineteen Eighties.
“His drive, his timing, his offhand vocal energy, his unmistakable boogie-plus piano, and his absolute confidence within the face of the void make Jerry Lee the quintessential rock and curler,” the music critic Robert Christgau, reviewing a 1970 best hits album, wrote of his profession.
Lewis was identified for his erratic and typically abusive conduct. He married seven instances. Myra Gale Brown, throughout their divorce proceedings in 1970, accused him of subjecting her to “each sort of bodily and psychological abuse possible.”
He bumped into numerous authorized, monetary and well being points over the a long time. He was prosecuted on tax evasion expenses and located not responsible in 1984.
“I knew I wasn’t responsible, however then once more, you by no means know what’s going to occur,” he instructed reporters on the time, in line with an article in The New York Instances. “I really felt the facility of God.”
Hollywood helped restore curiosity in Lewis with a 1989 biopic, tailored from Brown’s memoir about their 13-year marriage, titled “Nice Balls of Hearth!” Dennis Quaid starred as Lewis, with Winona Ryder as Brown and Alec Baldwin as Swaggart.
Lewis recorded albums solely intermittently in current a long time. He earned largely constructive evaluations for “Final Man Standing” (2006), anchored by duets with big-name artists like Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger and The Band’s Robbie Robertson. His final album, “Rock & Roll Time,” launched in 2014, reached No. 33 on the Billboard rock charts and No. 27 on the U.S. nation charts.
He obtained a Lifetime Achievement Award on the forty eighth Grammy Awards in 2005.