Jerry Lee Lewis, the influential rock pioneer known for his songs ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ and ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On’ has died today (Friday, October 28) at the age of 87. According to The Guardian, the singer died of natural causes at home in DeSoto County, Mississippi.
Lewis, who rose to prominence in the late 1950s with tracks like ‘Breathless’ and ‘High School Confidential’, was hospitalised in Memphis after suffering a stroke in 2019. While he was forced to cancel some planned appearances, he made a full recovery.
The singer was born in Louisiana and became a session musician in 1956 at Sun Records in Memphis, eventually playing with the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins. Dubbed “The Killer” for his outrageous performances, the rockabilly star recorded 40 studio albums during his career.
Lewis’ career was also marked by controversy. In 1958, while embarking on a UK tour, reporters discovered that Myra Gale Brown, his wife who was travelling with him, was only 13 years old and also his cousin. It was also revealed that he was still married to his second wife at the time of making vows with Brown. After the news spread, his tour was cancelled, and Lewis was blacklisted from the radio.
According to The Associated Press, Lewis also struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, legal disputes and physical illness in the following decades. However, after he decided to reemerge as a country performer, the industry begin accepting him again, leading to three Grammy wins.
Earlier this month, Lewis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame but was too ill with the flu to attend the ceremony, with Kris Kristofferson accepting the honour in Lewis’ place.
In his acceptance speech for his Country Music Hall of Fame induction, Lewis said it was with “heartfelt sadness and disappointment that I write to you today from my sick bed, rather than be able to share my thoughts in person”, adding that he “tried everything I could to build up the strength” to attend.
“I am honoured to be going into that Hall of Fame rotunda with some of my heroes – Hank Williams Sr., Jimmie Rodgers and the like – not to mention so many amazing friends who have been so good to me through the years,” Lewis concluded.
“Thank you all for your support and love and for electing me into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and most of all, thanks to God for allowing me to experience this honour while I am still here.”
On Wednesday (October 26), Lewis’ representatives confirmed that he was still alive after TMZ erroneously published a false report of his death.