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Great Balls of Fire fame Jerry Lee Lewis passes away at 87

TeamCitymapia | Oct 29 2022 10:47:20 AM
Jerry Lee Lewis

Jerry Lee Lewis, a scandal-producing kingpin of American rock and roll in the 1950s who was instrumental in creating the sound of the genre, passed away on Friday. Age-wise, he was 87. The star best known for his classic Great Balls of Fire died of natural causes, his publicist informed AFP. He was noted for his flowing blond hair, wild piano beats, and theatrical stage demeanour.

"He is ready to leave," an accompanying statement quoted the artist's wife Judith as saying.

It said Lewis suffered years of illnesses and injuries: "He had abused his body so thoroughly as a young man he was given little chance of lasting through middle age, let alone old age," it read.

Lewis, who was both Elvis Presley's friend and opponent, had a career that lasted more than 50 years and created a tonne of bizarre tales about his many spouses, including a young cousin, drunken outbursts, and run-ins with the law over unpaid taxes.

It also generated a number of iconic singles.

Lewis began playing the piano at the age of nine. He was born in Ferriday, Louisiana, on September 29, 1935. In order to purchase him an upright piano the following year, his parents Elmo and Mamie mortgaged the family farm.

Lewis spent countless hours honing his skill with the help of his cousins Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart, who later went on to achieve success as award-winning country musicians and scandal-plagued evangelists, respectively.

Lewis set out for Memphis, Tennessee in 1956, the American city renowned as the birthplace of soul, blues, and rock, to meet with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records, who was crucial to Presley's meteoric ascent to fame.

Carl Perkins joined Lewis, Presley, and Johnny Cash in the studio for the "Million Dollar Quartet" jam session that year, which was later released to critical acclaim.

With his breakthrough single "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," Lewis shot to popularity the next year. The song's daring lyrics surprised some radio stations, and they first refused to play it.

"It was just another song to me," he told The New York Times in 2006. "The girls went a little berserk, but that's girls for you."

Great Balls of Fire, his follow-up hit, is still among the best-selling singles of all time. Dennis Quaid starred in a 1989 docudrama about Lewis with the same name.

Lewis, who went by "The Killer," was on the rise by the summer of 1958, with sold-out concerts, a steady stream of cash, and a third song, Breathless, ascending the charts.

Lewis took it a step further, pounding the keys with his hands and feet and leaping on top of his grand piano to squeals of joy in an era when even the tiniest lower body gyration by Presley caused a sensation.

Who would have guessed that I would be the one? The rock star was described as having said in his final days in the publicist's statement.

According to legend, Lewis even set his piano on fire in an effort to outperform Chuck Berry, the guitarist who had won the night's closing position.

However, all fell apart in 1958 when Lewis went on tour in Britain and the local media there learned he had wed his 13-year-old second cousin Myra Gale Brown.

Lewis' return to the United States was also a rude shock because radio and television stations had blacklisted him.

He set out on the road to do one-night only gigs in taverns and small clubs.

Lewis was marginalised for the majority of the 1960s, overshadowed by the younger generation like The Beatles, as his secret marriage would forever damage his reputation.

But he continued to serve as an example to his famous successors.