Sunday, 02 Apr 2023

Jerry Lee Lewis, notorious US rocknroll star, dies aged 87

Jerry Lee Lewis, notorious US rocknroll star, dies aged 87

Jerry Lee Lewis, notorious US rocknroll star, dies aged 87

Jerry Lee Lewis, the rock'n'roll pioneer who became one of the most infamous figures in popular music, has died aged 87, his publicist has said.

He died of natural causes at his home in DeSoto County, Mississippi. "Judith, his seventh wife, was by his side when he passed away at his home in Desoto County, Mississippi, south of Memphis," a statement said. "He told her, in his final days, that he welcomed the hereafter, and that he was not afraid."

Lewis's energetic performances on songs including Great Balls of Fire helped install rock'n'roll as the dominant American pop music of the 1950s. He was born in Louisiana in 1935, the son of a poor farming family who mortgaged their home to buy Lewis his first piano. While learning the instrument and studying at an evangelical school, he was kicked out for performing a boogie-woogie version of My God is Real that was deemed irreverent.

He didn't return to education, and began playing live - his first performance at the age of 14 was at the opening of a car dealership. He developed a theatrical, boisterous style that chimed with the energy of the nascent rock'n'roll scene, and began playing at Sun Studios in Memphis, first as a studio musician and then as a solo artist. Some of his earliest recordings were made in 1956 with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, a group later dubbed the Million Dollar Quartet. It was an impromptu session: Cash and Presley happened to be separately visiting the studio where Lewis was backing Perkins on piano.

Lewis's breakthrough came the following year, with Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, a barnstorming piano-driven rock'n'roll single. When he performed it on television on The Steve Allen Show, he brought his unique playing style to national attention: wildly energetic, he would kick over his piano stool and play standing up, with songs accentuated with cascading runs of notes.

He followed that Top 3 song with his greatest success, Great Balls of Fire, which reached No 2 on the US charts and became one of the definitive songs of the rock'n'roll era.

During a 1958 UK tour at the peak of his fame, he was embroiled in scandal after it was revealed he had married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Brown - it would be the third of his seven marriages. There was outrage in the British press and the rest of his tour was cancelled. US radio stations and concert promoters also blacklisted him, and his popularity faded. He never again had a US Top 20 hit.

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