An iconic rock music pioneer has passed away

Rock ‘n Roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis has died aged 87.

By Vic Medina | Posted

Jerry Lee Lewis, a rock ‘n roll pioneer whose outrageous and wild life earned him the nickname ‘The Killer’, has died aged 87. The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer died at his Mississippi home just south of Memphis, with his wife by his side, according to NBC News. His energetic performances are legendary and his music has been immortalized in films like Superior gun and in a film about his life, large balls of firereleased in 1989.

The musician had been in failing health for years and on Wednesday, TMZ incorrectly reported that he had died, claiming they had been tricked by someone posing as the singer’s publicist.

Born in Ferriday, Louisiana in 1935, Lewis learned to play the piano at the age of nine and was already performing in public as a teenager. His career peaked in the 1950s, although he never eclipsed Elvis Presley’s popularity. Like Elvis, he signed with Sun Records in Memphis, scoring hits like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, “Great Balls of Fire”, and “Breathless”.

He modeled his rockabilly music on the black musicians he admired and imbued it with what he described as a live performance like a Southern preacher. Her cousin, evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, was not a fan of her music.

Jerry Lee Lewis in 1973.

His career, however, was marred by scandals and personal setbacks due to his personal behavior. In 1958 he married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, who was also the daughter of his bassist. He had also not finalized the divorce with his last wife at the time.

The marriage earned him boycotts and he was shunned for years, even though he was still recording music. Many radio stations, however, refused to play his music. When Myra divorced her several years later, she accused him of physical abuse.

Much of his wild past was forgotten in the ensuing years as his contributions to rock music earned him iconic status. He turned to country music in the 1970s and began to gain acclaim again. In the 1980s he was considered a legend, especially after his song “Great Balls of Fire” was featured in a memorable scene from Superior gunwith Tom Cruise on vocals.

The 1989 biopic, which starred Dennis Quaid as Lewis and Winona Ryder as Myra, also helped rehabilitate her image, although it was not well received by critics.

He continued to produce music, including a 2006 album titled Last man standing, which featured duets with Bruce Springsteen and Mick Jagger. His last album, rock’n’roll time, was released in 2014 and peaked at number 33 on the Billboard Rock Chart. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 48th Grammy Awards in 2005.

In 1986 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, along with Elvis and Chuck Berry. In 2010, the Broadway musical Million Dollar Foursome was based on a recording session that included himself, Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. In 2022, Ethan Cohen released a documentary about Lewis’s life and career titled mind problem.