|Jerry Lee Lewis|
Birthplace: Ferriday, LA
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Goodness gracious, great balls of fire
Jerry Lee Lewis was the first performer inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a pioneer in the rock and roll lifestyle. He has been married, arrested, and inebriated repeatedly throughout his long career, raising hell and channeling it through his piano.
His family attended a "holy roller" church that believed in healing, visions, speaking in tongues, and everyday miracles. Lewis was a terrible student, who eventually dropped out of high school after bringing home a report card of straight Fs. But he could work miracles with the piano at church, and his parents mortgaged the house to buy a piano when Lewis was 10. He made the piano an instrument of "the devil's music" instead of the church. With his rowdy cousins Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart, Lewis often loitered outside a black folks' night club, soaking up the music. Influenced by everything from gospel to hillbilly twang, Gene Autry to rhythm & blues, he developed a raw, raging style all his own. At 14 he gave his first public performance, at a local Ford dealership. At 15 he was performing professionally, drinking heavily, and admiring the music of B. B. King, who sometimes performed at the juke joint where Lewis worked. At 16 he married for the first time, and at 17, before his first divorce was finalized, he took his second wife.
Lewis briefly attended seminary, but often snuck out at night to visit local night clubs. He was expelled after three months when he performed a rock'n'roll version of the hymn "My God Is Real". For the next few years, he played with makeshift bands, performed solo and passed the hat for money, and augmented his income when necessary by selling vacuum cleaners and sewing machines. At 21 in 1956, he made his first recordings at Sun Records. "Crazy Arms" sold 300,000 copies in the South, but it was his 1957 "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" that gained Lewis nationwide recognition. Legend has it that the song was recorded in one take, and Lewis still swears he didn't even know the microphone was live -- he was just jammin'. With his other hits "Shakin'", "Great Balls of Fire", "Breathless", and "High School Confidential", Lewis sold more records than Elvis Presley that year.
After another divorce he married his 13-year-old cousin -- which wasn't far out of the ordinary in the American South at the time -- and again he had re-married before he was legally divorced, but this time he was famous, and the combination of cradle-robbing, incest, and bigamy made an explosive scandal. It took Lewis a while to understand the negative publicity. "I plumb married the girl, didn't I?" Condemned as a pervert, radio stations refused to play his music, bookings were cancelled, and his career was thought to be finished. He went several years without any more big hits, but his live shows at state fairs and dive bars were so wildly energetic Lewis still made enough money to live lavishly, drink lots of whiskey and do plenty of drugs.
After several years, Lewis drifted toward country and western music, and through the late '60s and '70s he regularly topped the country-western charts. His #1 country hits included "To Make Love Sweeter For You", "There Must Be More To Love Than This", "Would You Take Another Chance On Me", "Me And Bobby McGee", "Think About It Darlin'", and "Chantilly Lace".
Lewis's brother was killed by a drunk driver in front of the family's house when he was eight. His gave his firstborn son a Jeep for his 19th birthday, and the boy was killed when he wrecked it. His second son drowned at three. In 1979, the IRS confiscated many of Lewis's possessions in lieu of payment for back taxes. He was married six times, divorced four times and widowed twice (both times under conditions some saw as suspicious). During and between his marriages, there were countless groupies waiting for Lewis backstage, in the parking lot, or even coming to his house. Among them was Bonny Lee Bakley, who later married actor Robert Blake and met an untimely death.
Lewis accidentally shot his bass player in the chest (he miraculously recovered). He totaled his Rolls Royce and walked away with barely a scratch. Before Presley's death, Lewis was arrested at Graceland, waving a gun and telling a security guard he was there to kill Presley. He once estimated he had spent $500,000 on Demerol while addicted to the painkillers. Lewis often referred to the Beatles as "that English band", and was jealous of the fame accorded Presley. "I was glad [when Presley died]", he once said. "Just another one out of the way. I mean, Elvis this, Elvis that. All we hear is Elvis. What the shit did Elvis do except take dope that I couldn't get ahold of?"
His shows were amazing. He would kick his piano stool out of the way, play the piano while standing up, dancing, making suggestive motions at the audience, flapping his tongue between lyrics. He would bang the piano's keys with his feet, with his fists. Legend has it he once lit a Steinway on fire at the conclusion of "Great Balls of Fire".
In the 1989 film of his life, Great Balls of Fire!, Dennis Quaid played Lewis, Winona Ryder played his barely-teen bride, and Alec Baldwin played Swaggart. In Lewis's real life, his current (seventh) wife, Judith Brown, is the ex-wife of the brother of Myra Gail Brown, the cousin he married in 1957.
Father: Elmo Lewis, Sr. (convicted moonshiner, d. Jul-1979)
Mother: Mamie Ethel Lewis (d. 1970)
Sister: Linda Gail Lewis (singer, b. 18-Jul-1947)
Brother: Elmo Lewis, Jr. (killed by drunk driver)
Sister: Frankie Jean Lewis Terrell (curator, Jerry Lee Lewis Museum, b. 1944)
Wife: Dorothy Barton (preacher's daughter, m. 21-Feb-1952, div. 8-Oct-1953)
Wife: Jane Mitchum (m. 15-Sep-1953, sep. 1957, div. May-1958)
Son: Jerry Lee Lewis, Jr. (b. 15-Sep-1953, d. 13-Nov-1973 car accident)
Son: Ronnie Guy Lewis (drummer, "Suzie Q", b. 16-Mar-1956)
Wife: Myra Gail Brown (Lewis' cousin, b. 1944, m. 12-Dec-1957, sep. Dec-1970, div. May-1971)
Son: Steve Allen Lewis (b. 27-Feb-1959, d. Apr-1962 drowning)
Daughter: Phoebe Allen Lewis (b. 1963)
Wife: Jaren Elizabeth Gunn Pate (m. 1971, div. Dec-1973, d. Jun-1982 drowning)
Wife: Shawn Michelle Stevens (m. 7-Jun-1983, d. 22-Aug-1983 methadone overdose)
Wife: Kerrie McCarver (m. 24-Apr-1984, div. 2004)
Son: Jerry Lee Lewis III (b. 28-Jan-1987)
Girlfriend: Bonny Lee Bakley (groupie)
Daughter: Jeri Lee Lewis (b. 28-Jul-1993, with Bakley)
Wife: Judith Brown (his nurse, b. circa 1950, m. 9-Mar-2012)
High School: (dropped out)
Theological: Southwestern Bible Institute, Waxahachie, Texas (dropped out)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 1986
Rockabilly Hall of Fame
Expelled from School
Betty Ford Center
Married an Underage Girl
Bankruptcy $3.75 million in back taxes 1988
Cholecystectomy Doctors Hospital, Memphis, TN
Driving While Intoxicated Collierville, TN 22-Nov-1976
Reckless Driving Collierville, TN 22-Nov-1976
Driving without a License Collierville, TN 22-Nov-1976
Drunk in Public Memphis, TN 23-Nov-1976
Failure to Pay Child Support per 2003 lawsuit filed by Kerrie
Risk Factors: Alcoholism, Cocaine, Marijuana
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (18-Sep-1987) · Himself
American Hot Wax (17-Mar-1978) · Himself
Be My Guest (Mar-1965) · Himself
High School Confidential! (30-May-1958) · Himself
Jamboree (1957) · Himself
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