Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, known as ‘The Killer’, dies – SABC News

American rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, who was torn between his upbringing in the Bible and his desire to make hellish rock ‘n’ roll with hits like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” has died at 87.

Lewis died of natural causes at his home in Desoto County, Mississippi, with his wife Judith by his side, his publicist said. The musician has been ill in recent years, and in 2019 he suffered a stroke.

Like Chuck Berry’s guitar, Lewis’ piano was instrumental in shaping rock and roll in the mid-1950s. He was part of a dazzling array of talent at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee that included Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison. Louis outlived them all.

Lewis, also known as The Killer, was one of the first acts inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and was so influential that when John Lennon met him backstage at a show in Los Angeles, the Beatle fell to his knees and kissed Louis’ feet.

Lewis filled his albums not only with innovative rock, but also with gospel, country and rhythm and blues such as “Me and Bobby McGee” and “To Make Love Sweeter for You” while living a life often filled with alcohol, drugs and tragedy. His music was sometimes overshadowed by scandal – including his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin Mira in 1957.

In his prime, he performed with a daring, originality and wild-man debauchery on stage that thrilled his young fans as much as their parents. Normally, Lewis kicked his piano bench and pounded his foot on the keyboard as his long, wavy blonde hair flew over his face.

According to legend, Louis was once so upset that Chuck Berry was chosen to close a show because of him that he ended his set with a move that was hard to pull off: setting the piano on fire and walking away.

“I’m a raving, stomping, piano-playing son of a bitch,” Lewis once told Time magazine in his drawn-out Louisiana drawl. “Evil son of a bitch. But a great son of a bitch.


Lewis was born on September 29, 1935, in Ferriday, Louisiana, and grew up in poverty with two cousins ​​who were also destined for fame, television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and country singer Mickey Gilley.

He became interested in the piano at the age of 4 and at 10 he started sneaking home to listen to blues artists. He absorbed various musical influences, especially Jimmie Rogers records that belonged to his father, a farmer who went to prison for bootlegging.

Lewis’s family attended the Assembly of God Church and his mother saw to it that he was well informed about the evils of alcohol, insanity and promiscuity. But Lewis was intent on experiencing them firsthand and began playing piano in bars while still a teenager. His mother, upset at the idea of ​​her son playing the devil’s music, sends him to a Bible college in Texas.

The stay turned out to be short-lived, with Lewis reportedly being kicked out of school for playing a boogie-woogie version of ‘My God Is Real’ during an assembly. The incident showed the dichotomy Lewis had to live with.

“The man is tortured,” Myra Lewis told People magazine. “Jerry Lee thinks Jerry Lee is too evil to be saved.”

As Lewis himself once said, “I drag the audience to hell with me.”


Lewis had a son and was in a second marriage before he was 20, although he had not divorced his first wife. He was determined to be a musician and headed to Memphis.

In 1957 he recorded two chart-topping hits for Sun – “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire”, which he was reluctant to record because he considered it blasphemous – it helped define the early rock ‘roll. Lewis quickly followed it up with more hits – ‘You Win Again’, ‘Breathless’ and ‘High School Confidential’.

His career came to a screeching halt during a 1958 tour of Great Britain. Journalists discovered that Louis was already married to Myra, the daughter of his bassist, who was not only 13 years old, but also his cousin. The news was so overwhelmingly negative that the tour was cancelled.

Back in the United States, Lewis’ career did not revive until he switched genres and recorded country hits such as “Another Place, Another Time,” “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)” and “She Even Woke I’m ready to say goodbye.

Lewis’ hit streak was matched only by the tragedies of his life. His young son, Steve Allen Lewis, drowned in 1962, and another son, Jerry Lee Jr., died in a car accident in 1973 at the age of 19.

After divorcing Myra in the early 1970s, he married Jarren Pate in 1971, but she drowned in 1982. They were separated for eight years but never divorced.

After only a few months of marriage, his next wife, Sean Michelle Stevens, was found dead of a drug overdose in their home in 1983. Eight months later, he began another stormy marriage to sixth wife, Carrie McCarver, which lasted 20 years before they divorced and he married his seventh wife Judith Brown in 2012.


In 1976, Lewis accidentally shot his bassist and that year was arrested drunk outside Presley’s Graceland mansion in Memphis with a loaded gun, demanding to see Presley.

Lewis, who spent much of his later life on a ranch in Nesbitt, Mississippi, also endured costly battles with U.S. tax officials, a near-fatal perforated ulcer, and an addiction to painkillers that landed him in the Betty Ford Clinic.

In his later years, he settled down, but biographer Rick Bragg recalls interviewing Lewis for his 2014 book, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Words. Lewis showed Bragg the gun he kept under his pillow in a bedroom riddled with bullet holes and a Bowie knife stuck in the door.

“I don’t think Jerry Lee Lewis had to exaggerate his life a little to make it interesting,” Bragg told the Atlanta Constitution Journal. “He really made Elvis cry. He really turned over more Cadillacs than most people bought in the state of Mississippi.

Lewis’ late recordings included guests such as Jimmy Page, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Neil Young, John Fogerty, Ringo Starr and other rockers he influenced.

Besides his wife Judith, Lewis is survived by four children, a sister and many grandchildren.

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