Rock & Roll’s “First Great Wild Man” Dies At 87

Maurice Seymour

Jerry Lee Lewis was born into a strict Christian household. He was brought up going to church, and he was the cousin of Jimmy Swaggart, who went on to become a televangelist.

Lewis didn’t go into televangelism. Instead, he felt that music was his way of preaching. He started playing the piano when he was 9 years old. His family was poor, so his father had to mortgage the house to buy his son a piano.

As Lewis learned the piano, he copied the style of preachers he saw and Black musicians who performed locally. He ended up becoming quite the showman with his own unique style. Some thought he would be the next Elvis Presley.

Like Presley, Lewis signed with Sun Records. While at that label, he released multiple songs that became hits including “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire.” He was called as Rock & Roll’s “first great wild man”.

His career was a success until details about his personal life made headlines in 1958. He was on tour in England at the time when news stories shared the news that Lewis had married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, the year prior. Brown was also the daughter of Lewis’s bass player.

After the news about Lewis’s marriage to a “child bride” became public, former fans boycotted his music, radio stations wouldn’t play his music, and concert promoters wouldn’t book him. His career took a nose dive. It wasn’t until the 1960s that his career started to recover when he switched from Rock ‘n Roll to country music.

The last album Lewis released was “Rock & Roll Time” in 2014. That is officially the last album he will ever release.

Here’s a young Jerry Lee Lewis performing one of his famous hits:

Lewis has died at the age of 87. A statement from his representative, Zach Farnum, confirms the news. Farnum also shared that Lewis died of natural causes while at his home in Desoto County, Mississippi.

According to Lewis’s seventh wife, Judith, he was ready to go. She was with Lewis when he died, and in a statement, she explained that Lewis had “told her, in his final days, that he welcomed the hereafter, and that he was not afraid.”

Lewis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. In Rick Bragg’s 2014 biography about Lewis titled “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story,” Lewis explained, “I want to be remembered as a rock-n-roll idol, in a suit and tie or blue jeans and a ragged shirt, it don’t matter, as long as the people get that show. The show, that’s what counts. It covers up everything. Any bad thoughts anyone ever had about you goes away. ‘Is that the one that married that girl? Well, forget about it, let me hear that song.’”