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Jerry Lee Lewis, rock ‘n’ roll pioneer who sang ‘Nice Balls of Hearth,’ dies at 87


Jerry Lee Lewis, the piano-pounding, foot-stomping singer who electrified early rock ‘n’ roll with hits like “Nice Balls of Hearth” and “Entire Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” earlier than marital scandal derailed his profession, has died, in accordance with a press release from his consultant, Zach Farnum. He was 87.

Lewis handed away at his house in Desoto County, Mississippi, south of Memphis, the assertion mentioned. Farnum advised CNN that Lewis died of “pure causes” when reached by cellphone.

His seventh spouse, Judith, was by his aspect when he died and Lewis “advised her, in his closing days, that he welcomed the hereafter, and that he was not afraid,” the assertion added.

Together with Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and others, Lewis was one of many main figures of the Nineteen Fifties rock period and a grasp showman – nicknamed “The Killer” – whose uncooked, uninhibited performances drove younger followers into spasmodic matches.

“I used to be born to be on a stage. I could not wait to be on it. I dreamed about it. And I have been on one all my life,” Lewis mentioned in “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Personal Story,” a 2014 biography by Rick Bragg. “That is the place I am the happiest.”

However offstage, the singer’s private life was turbulent. Lewis was close to the height of his reputation in 1958 when the general public realized that he had married Myra Gale Brown, his first cousin. She was 13 on the time; Lewis was 22.

Information of the wedding leaked in London, the place Lewis had flown to play some live shows. Lewis advised the press that Myra was 15, however the fact quickly got here out and brought on an outcry, as newspapers blared such headlines as “Followers Aghast at Youngster Bride.” Audiences heckled Lewis, and the tour was canceled after three reveals.

Lewis continued to document and tour over the following decade, however his rockabilly music did not promote within the Beatles period and he could not regain the recognition of his early years – till he made an unlikely comeback as a rustic singer.

Lewis was born in 1935 right into a poor farming household in Ferriday, Louisiana. Certainly one of his cousins, Jimmy Swaggart, would go on to turn into a well-liked TV evangelist. Lewis’ web site says he started taking part in the piano at age 9, aping the kinds of preachers and Black musicians who handed by way of the area.

After dropping out of faculty to give attention to taking part in music, Lewis traveled in 1956 to Solar Studios in Memphis, the place he shortly gained work as a session participant for such budding stars as Carl Perkins and Johnny Money. He additionally recorded with Elvis Presley.

A December 1956 recording session with Lewis, Presley, Perkins and Money – nicknamed the “Million Greenback Quartet” – grew to become a seminal second in rock historical past.

By the next yr, because of High 5 hits like “Nice Balls of Hearth,” Lewis was internationally well-known, although his incendiary model and suggestive lyrics led some radio stations to boycott his songs.

Then got here the wedding scandal, and Lewis’ aura was by no means fairly the identical.

After a decade of dwindling gross sales, he reinvented himself within the late Nineteen Sixties as a rustic artist and revived his profession, scoring a collection of High 10 nation hits nicely into the Seventies.

In 1989 “Nice Balls of Hearth!”, a biopic starring Dennis Quaid as Lewis, introduced new consideration to Lewis’ life and music. Lewis even recorded new variations of his hits from him for the soundtrack.

However his private life remained messy. He was married seven occasions and filed for chapter in 1988, claiming he owed the IRS greater than $2 million.

Jerry Lee Lewis speaks at the Country Music Hall of Fame 2022 inductees presented by CMA at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on May 17, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.

He additionally battled alcoholism, drug habit and different well being issues for years. In a single notorious 1976 episode, he was arrested at Graceland within the wee hours of the morning after drunkenly crashing his automotive into the mansion’s gates – with a loaded gun – whereas attempting to go to Presley.

“I ain’t no goody goody, and I ain’t no phony,” Lewis mentioned in Bragg’s biography. “I by no means pretended to be something, and something I ever did, I did it wide-open as a case knife. I’ve lived my life to the fullest and I had fun doin’ it.”

In October, Lewis was inducted into the Nation Music Corridor of Fame however was unable to attend the ceremony as a result of he was in poor health with the flu, in accordance with a press release posted to his social media.

Lewis was raised in a strict, spiritual family and generally struggled to reconcile his religion in God together with his love of rock ‘n’ roll, which conservative listeners within the Nineteen Fifties condemned as “the satan’s music.”

He did not write many songs however was sensible at reinterpreting others’ compositions together with his infectious, boogie-woogie rhythms, which helped deliver rockabilly music into the mainstream.

However his most enduring legacy could have been his unhinged piano-playing model, which influenced Elton John and lots of different musicians. Throughout live shows Lewis banged the keys together with his fists and elbows, kicked over his piano stool, climbed atop his instrument and as soon as even set it on fireplace.

On this means, he confirmed that rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t simply in regards to the guitar.

In 1986, he joined a constellation of seminal figures – Berry, Presley, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fat Domino, Buddy Holly, Little Richard and the Everly Brothers – as the primary group of artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Corridor. of Fame.

Lewis lived most of his life on a ranch in northern Mississippi with a piano-shaped swimming pool. He by no means fairly outran the scandal of marrying his younger cousin of him. However to his followers, his infectious music and his fiery dwell reveals made up for his private transgressions.

“I need to be remembered as a rock-n-roll idol, in a go well with and tie or blue denims and a ragged shirt, it do not matter, so long as the folks get that present. The present, that is what counts. It covers up all the pieces,” Bragg advised.

“Any unhealthy ideas anybody ever had about you goes away. ‘Is that the one which married that woman? Effectively, overlook about it, let me hear that track.’”

Lewis is survived by his spouse, Judith Coghlan Lewis, his kids Jerry Lee Lewis III, Ronnie Lewis, Pheobe Lewis and Lori Lancaster, sister Linda Gail Lewis, cousin Swaggart and lots of grandchildren, nieces and nephews, in accordance with his consultant’s assertion.

Data on providers will probably be introduced within the coming days, the assertion added.

In lieu of flowers, the Lewis household requested donations be made within the singer’s honor to the Arthritis Basis or MusiCares.


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