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Jerry Lee Lewis; controversial rock and roll pioneer, dead at 87

Jeremy Hunter Music & History


Jerry Lee Lewis was a rock and roll pioneer who peaked in popularity in the 1950’s. His hit songs included “Great Balls of Fire”, “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On", and “Highschool Confidential”. His career, however, faltered after he married his first cousin, Myra Gale Brown in 1957. Myra was only thirteen years old, and Jerry, twenty-two. There was also speculation that Jerry was involved with the death of his fifth wife, Shawn Stephens, who died from an overdose in 1983. These claims were never proven. To put it simply, Jerry Lee Lewis was a controversial, if not polarizing musical figure who embodied the early days of rock and roll. You may have noticed the word was, which is past tense, rather than present tense. That’s right, Jerry Lee Lewis passed away earlier today on October 28th, 2022 at the age of eighty-seven.  

Unlike Buddy Holly or Richie Valens, who the world lost far too soon back on February 3rd, 1959, Lewis lived a long life, and had friendships with some of the greatest musicians to have ever lived. From Johnny Cash, to Elvis Presley – wait just a second. Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis were at times friends, but there was an incident back on November 23rd 1976 when Jerry Lee Lewis was arrested outside Elvis’ Graceland home for intending on shooting The King.  

As the story goes, Elvis had been trying desperately to reach Jerry by phone. Elvis had become overweight and reclusive. The King had wanted the company of his good old pal, Jerry Lee Lewis. Lewis replied that he would head out to Graceland if he had time, but that he was currently attempting to get his father, Elmo, out of jail in Tunica, Mississippi. His father had been detained for drunk driving.  

Later that same night, Jerry arrived at The Vapors, a Memphis nightclub, where he then proceeded to get drunk on champagne, when someone at the club approached and had given him a gun. Lewis then spontaneously remembered that Elvis had wanted to see him. He then left the club, post haste with the gun in one hand, the bottle of champagne in the other, before entering his Lincoln Continental and speeding off to Graceland like Speedy Gonzales. Jerry must have really been feeling his alcohol, because at roughly three o’ clock in the morning, Jerry collided into the gates of the Graceland compound.  

Harold Lloyd, cousin to Elvis, was guarding the gates when it all occurred, and as it did, a stunned Harold witnessed a drunken Jerry attempt to throw the bottle of champagne out the car window. Jerry, however, was too drunk to realize that the window was still rolled up and smashed both the bottle of wine and car window to smithereens.  

Elvis, who was upstairs within his Graceland compound, had witnessed the entire drunken situation unfold on his closed-circuit television. Elvis then told security to call the police, which they did without missing a beat. The police arrived a short time later and approached a drunken Jerry, before they quickly located the gun on the dash of the Lincoln Continental. Jerry began yelling, swearing and protesting at the police as they placed The Killer, as Jerry Lee Lewis was famously known, in cuffs.  

The police then looked to Elvis, who stood nearby with a cold expression, likely wearing his signature shades. 

“What do you want us to do, boss?” asked one of the officers. 

Elvis gave a pleading Jerry an icy stare before looking to the officer; 

“Lock him up,” said Elvis.  

Jerry, who was saddened and angered by the demand made to police by someone he had trusted and considered a close friend, threw a drunken rage as he was escorted to a nearby police cruiser. Jerry Lee Lewis was booked for carrying a pistol and public drunkenness. Elvis, as we all know, died nine months later at his Graceland home from a fatal heart attack while taking a shit on his gold toilet.  

The King died from overdosing on one too many cheeseburgers at the age of forty-two, while The Killer died from pneumonia at the age of eighty-seven.  Only the good die young, or so they say.  

In the late sixties, through to the late seventies, Jerry enjoyed a successful resurgence as a country musician. He even had 17 top 10 hit singles through the Billboard Country Chart, with four chart-toppers. At a time, Jerry Lee Lewis was considered the most bankable country star in the world. In 1973, Jerry Lee Lewis also played at the Grand Ol’ Opry, the holy grail performance spot for any country musician.  

In 1986, Jerry Lee Lewis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A deserving feat for a musician who utilized the piano in a similarly iconic manner to Jimmy Page shredding on the electric guitar.  

Although, with this said, Jerry Lee Lewis did have a questionable and disturbing past, and the marriage to his underaged cousin resulted in his career faltering to a point of near destruction. Although I can respect the music created, I cannot defend the choices made by Lewis. This is a sentiment shared by many, who will remember the man less for his talent and more for his disturbing choices which brought an end to his rock career in the late fifties, only to lead to a country career, which proved successful, yet was stained by a choice which defined and likely haunted him until the very end.

In closing, some might condemn me for calling the late Jerry Lee Lewis talented, just as others may despise me for asserting that Michael Jackson was a pedophile who reached a deserving end. There's no pleasing everyone. So whether you mourned the loss of Jerry Lee Lewis, or celebrated his death with a gleeful proclamation that you are happy the pedophile is dead, there is one thing we can all agree on. And that is that our choices ultimately define us, good or bad, and the way in which we are remembered when we are gone is based solely on choices we make today. Jerry Lee Lewis is now dead, and for better or worse, his music will live on. 


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