Rock and Roll Pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis Dead at 87
One of the greats of the early rock 'n' roll era, Jerry Lee Lewis, has died at the age of 87.
Born Sept. 29, 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana, Lewis would rise to great musical heights with his live wire piano playing and performing, earning him the nickname "The Killer." He scored a slew of hits including "Great Balls of Fire," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On," "Breathless" and "High School Confidential" over the course of his legendary career.
Lewis first arrived on the music scene in 1956, settling into Memphis' Sun Studios. His first single, "Crazy Arms," failed to chart, but the following year he released "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On," which peaked at No. 3, though it topped both the country and R&B charts.
Over the course of his career, he released 40 studio albums, with the most recent coming with 2014's Rock & Roll Time. There were also eight live albums and multiple collaborative albums and compilation and soundtrack appearances.
While at Sun Studios, Lewis was part of what was dubbed the "Million Dollar Quartet" along with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley.
Lewis' career wasn't without controversy when it was discovered that his third wife, Myra Gale Brown, was his 13-year-old cousin. The news led to Lewis' tour being canceled. But eventually the musician was able to rebound with his albums charting through to the end of his career.
In 1986, Jerry Lee Lewis was one of the inaugural inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and three years later his life story was turned into the film Great Balls of Fire featuring Dennis Quaid in the lead role. Lewis' life, once again, became the subject of a film in 2022 with director Ethan Coen overseeing the documentary, Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind.
In a tribute released through his publicist, it was revealed that Lewis suffered from various illnesses and injuries over the latter portion of his life. "He is ready to leave," said his wife Judith just prior to his passing.
When asked in his later years what he hoped people would say about him, Lewis often offered, "You can tell 'em I played the piano and sang rock 'n' roll."
The musician is survived by his wife Judith, his children Jerry Lee Lewis III, Ronnie Lewis, Pheobe Lewis and Lori Lancaster, sister Linda Gail Lewis, cousin Jimmy Swaggart and many grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Services and more information will be announced in the following days. In lieu of flowers, the Lewis family requests donations be made in Jerry Lee Lewis' honor to the Arthritis Foundation or MusiCares - the non-profit foundation of the GRAMMYs / National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.