Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, known for his dynamic singing, piano playing and wild performance style, has died at age 87. Lewis’ passing was announced Friday in a lengthy statement posted on his official website.
The Louisiana-born Lewis was part of Memphis, Tennessee label Sun Records’ roster of influential rock ‘n’ roll artists during the late 1950s alongside Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison.
Jerry Lee, who was infamously nicknamed “The Killer,” came to fame thanks to the classic songs “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” which peaked at #3 and #2, respectively, on the Billboard Hot 100. Both songs also topped the U.S. country charts.
After scoring another top-10 hit in 1958 with “Breathless,” Lewis, who was 22 at the time, was involved in a major controversy that derailed his pop career when it came to light that he had recently married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown. The couple remained married until 1970.
Starting in the late 1960s and into the ’80s, Lewis enjoyed a successful career as a country artist, releasing dozens of charting hits.
Jerry Lee was part of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s first class of inductees in 1986. He also was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2019 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2022.
Lewis’ life was chronicled in the 1989 biopic Great Balls of Fire, which starred Dennis Quaid and featured Winona Ryder as Myra.
Jerry Lee’s last solo studio album, Rock and Roll Time, was released in 2014 and featured guest appearances from several well-known musicians, including Keith Richards, The Band‘s Robbie Robertson, Neil Young and Nils Lofgren. Earlier this year, he released a collaborative gospel album with his cousin, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, called The Boys from Ferriday.
Lewis is survived by his wife, Judith Coghlan Lewis, his four children, many grandchildren and his sister, Linda Gail Lewis.
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