Jerry Lee Lewis, Rock Music Pioneer, Dead at 87

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Jerry Lee Lewis, the rock and roll innovator whose career stumbled after his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown, is dead at the age of 87.

Lewis’ passing was announced on Friday, October 28th by his publicist, Zach Farnum of 117 Group. His death had previously been erroneously reported by TMZ and other outlets on October 26th.

According to an accompanying obituary written by Rick Bragg, the musician “suffered through the last years of his life from various illnesses and injuries that, his physicians have often said, should have taken him decades ago.”

“He is ready to leave,” his seventh wife Judith was quoted as saying before his death in his home in Desoto County, Mississippi, just south of Memphis.

A trailblazing pianist, Lewis helped popularize rockabilly and rock and roll with a run of hits in 1957 and ’58 including, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Breathless,” “High School Confidential,” and especially, “Great Balls of Fire.”

In 1957, a then-22-year-old Lewis secretly married 13-year-old Myra Gale Brown, his first cousin once removed and the daughter of his bassist J.W. Brown. In 1958, he told a reporter that they were husband and wife, though he lied and claimed she was actually 15 at the time. When the truth came out, and as fans and the media learned that Lewis and Brown were also relatives, the singer faced a massive backlash.

Afterwards, in an open letter to Billboard, he wrote, “I have in recent weeks been the center of a fantastic amount of publicity, of which none has been good… I hope that if I am washed up as an entertainer it won’t be because of this bad publicity.” While he would continue to be a prolific songwriter and performer, his career never again reached those lofty heights. He and Brown divorced in 1970.

Lewis would go on to record dozens of subsequent albums, and in 1986 he became one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Following the ceremony, he is credited with starting an impromptu jam sessions, which has become a Hall tradition.

Lewis is also a Country Music Hall of Fame inductee and the recipient of the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Rock Music Pioneer, Dead at 87
Wren Graves

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