Millennial History

By Steve Jackson

He Played with Fire

Goodness gracious! Rock’s Roll icon Jerry Lee Lewis recently passed away in his Mississippi home at the age of 87. The “ Great Balls of Fire” rock and country icon had been dealing with health issues lately, according to a Facebook post on his official page. The October 19 post read” On Sunday, Jerry Lee Lewis was finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The legendary Lee was too ill with the flu to attend the ceremony.”

    The singer told his fans at the time, “It is with heartfelt sadness and disappointment that I write to you today from my sick bed, rather than be able to share my thoughts in person. I tried everything I could to build up the strength to come today—I’ve looked forward to it since I found out about it earlier this year. My sincerest apologies to all of you for missing this fine event, but I hope to see you all soon”. As famous author Ray Bradbury once postulated “There are no happy endings in life”.    

     Lewis-famously dubbed “The Killer “-was known for his tenacious piano playing and was among a group of rock pioneers including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard His live act was so stunning that not even Elvis Presley would take the stage after one of his performances. He was known for his boogie-woogie style with his 1957 hits” Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “ Great Balls of Fire” He was the first person inducted into the first class of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. The Recording Academy honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.  

     The rocker was born in Ferriday, Louisiana, on September 29,1935. In his biography, he recalled learning to tickle the ivories at age 9, with his father mortgaging the family farm to buy him his first piano shortly thereafter. His first public performance came at the age of 14,at the opening of a car dealership. He attended Bible school in Texas, where he was reportedly expelled for a bad attitude and misconduct, including playing rock and roll versions of hymns.  

      Despite his professional accolades, he was a controversial figure in his personal relationships. Lewis signed with Sun Records in 1956, but his scandalous marriage to his then 13 year old cousin, Myra Gale Brown, threatened his ascent to stardom. The union-which occurred while he was still married to another woman-was revealed when he embarked on a British tour in 1958. The tour was promptly canceled, and the radio stations wouldn’t play his records. The couple divorced in 1970.   

     He was married seven times and had six children. Two of them tragically died young, one in a swimming pool accident and the other in a car crash. His personal life probably helped to diminish his star power at the time  and Chuck Berry and Elvis became the Kings of Rock and Roll.  

     Dennis Quaid played Lewis in the 1989 biopic “Great Balls of Fire”, while Winona Ryder portrayed Myra. Lewis recorded several country albums and saw renewed interest in his career when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At his recent induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame-for which he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award-he was too ill  to attend-Kris Kristofferson accepted the award on his behalf and presented it to him before his passing.   

       Much of the Bad Boy attitude associated with Rock and Roll exemplified by such acts as The Rolling Stones, Billy Idol, The Pretenders and the Ramones owes to the trailblazing performances and off-the-stage dalliances of Jerry Lee Lewis.  

       But there will only be one “ Killer”.



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