Jerry Lee Lewis, early rock 'n' roll star, dies at 87

Legend Jerry Lee Lewis performs in concert at Le Bataclan in Paris, France on June 28, 2005. Lewis died Friday at 87. File Photo by David Silpa/UPI
Legend Jerry Lee Lewis performs in concert at Le Bataclan in Paris, France on June 28, 2005. Lewis died Friday at 87. File Photo by David Silpa/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Jerry Lee Lewis, one of the first rock 'n' roll stars, died on Friday at 87, his publicist said.

An obituary written by Rick Bragg, his biographer, said that Lewis "suffered through the last years of his life from various illnesses and injuries that, his physicians have often said, should have taken him decades ago," NBC News reported.


Lewis died at his home in Mississippi with his wife, Judith, by his side.

"He told her, in his final days, that he welcomed the hereafter, and that he was not afraid," the obituary said.

Lewis is known for two of rock's earliest hits, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls of Fire," and also for his theatrical performances. Lewis often would stomp on his piano and tap the keys with his feet while performing.

"He pounded the piano with such abandon that it's a wonder it didn't come apart. He is a defiant, reckless, indefatigable wild man that can rock you into oblivion," the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame said when he was inducted in 1986.

However, he attracted more notoriety, and scandal, when he married his 13-year-old cousin in 1957. The two remained together until 1970, but the marriage drew condemnation and led to boycotts of his music.


Lewis was born on Sept. 29, 1935, in Ferriday, La. He started playing piano at age 9 and was influenced by blues artists like Ray Charles and B.B. King.

Lewis initially struggled to gain much attention, but finally broke through at Sun Records in Memphis in 1957. According to Rolling Stone, at the end of one of his Sun sessions, Lewis off-handedly suggested he cut a song he'd been playing on and off. Lewis bashed out "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." Released in early 1957, the song exploded. Both that and "Great Balls of Fire" landed in the Top 5 of country, pop, and R&B charts simultaneously.

However, his career became derailed in 1958. While touring England in 1958, reporters learned that Lewis had married his third cousin, Myra Gale Brown, the daughter of his bass player. Lewis at first said she was 15 -- she was actually two years younger.

Lewis' personal life was not only filled with scandal, but also tragic events. In 1962, his 3-year-old son, Steve Allen, drowned. Another son, Jerry Lee Lewis Jr., was killed in a car accident in 1974. Lewis' estranged fourth wife, Jaren Gunn Lewis, was found drowned in a pool just before she and Lewis were divorced. In 1983, his fifth wife, Shawn Michelle Lewis, was found dead in the bedroom of their house in Mississippi.


Lewis also spent time in the Betty Ford Clinic for addiction to painkillers, and had numerous battles with the IRS.

"I get crazy sometimes," he told Rolling Stone in 1979. "But if everything they say I've done is true, I'd have been put in the penitentiary long ago."

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Anita Pointer of the Grammy-winning Pointer Sisters stands with Andy Madadian (C) and La Toya Jackson (L) as Madadian is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2020. Pointer, who performed alongside her sisters June and Ruth, died at the age of 74 on December 31 following a battle with cancer. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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