Jerry Lee Lewis, known by his fans as “The Killer,” is a legendary rock ‘n’ roll musician and singer-songwriter. He was born in Ferriday, Louisiana in 1935 and grew up in a musical family. Lewis was the second cousin of another famous musician, Jimmy Swaggart, and the two were often compared in their early years.
Lewis began playing the piano at a young age and quickly became a prodigy. He was inspired by the music of gospel and blues and began performing at local venues in his hometown. In the early 1950s, Lewis moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he signed a record deal with Sun Records, the same label that launched the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins.
Lewis released his first hit single, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” in 1957, which reached number one on the Billboard charts. The song was followed by other hits like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Breathless.” Lewis became known for his energetic and wild performances on stage, often jumping on pianos and even lighting his instruments on fire.
Despite his musical success, Lewis’s personal life was filled with controversy. Jerry Lee Lewis has been married 7 times. He married his first wife, Dorothy Barton, in 1952 when he was just 17 years old. His first marriage ended in divorce in 1953. He then married Jane Mitchum in 1953, and they had two children before divorcing in 1957. In the same year, he married Myra Gale Brown, his 13-year-old cousin, which caused a major scandal and damaged his career. They had two children together and divorced in 1970.
Jerry Lee Lewis earned his nickname “The Killer” not just because of his energetic and wild performances, but also because of his scandalous personal life. One of the most controversial moments in Lewis’s personal life came in 1958 when he married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown. The marriage caused public outrage and Lewis was banned from performing in several states. His popularity began to decline and he struggled to regain his success in the music industry.
In 1971, Lewis married for the fourth time to Jaren Elizabeth Gunn Pate, but she died in a swimming pool accident in 1982. His next marriage was to Shawn Michelle Stevens in 1983, but she died under mysterious circumstances in 1983. Lewis’ fifth wife, Shawn Stephens, died in 1983 in a manner that was officially ruled as a suicide, although some have raised questions about the circumstances of her death. Lewis then married Kerrie McCarver in 1984, and they had a child before divorcing in 2004. His most recent marriage was to Judith Brown in 2012, but they separated in 2018.
Despite the controversies, Lewis continued to make music and released several albums throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He also starred in several movies and made television appearances. In the 1980s, he saw a resurgence in popularity when he collaborated with other musicians like Willie Nelson and Roy Orbison.
However, Lewis’s personal life continued to be plagued with tragedy. In 1962, his son Jerry Lee Lewis Jr. died in a car accident. Two years later, Lewis’s third wife, Myra Gale Brown, filed for divorce. In 1973, Lewis’s fourth wife, Jaren Elizabeth Gunn Pate, drowned in a swimming pool accident.
Throughout his career, Lewis was known for his wild and unpredictable behavior, which often landed him in trouble with the law. He was arrested several times for drug and alcohol-related offenses and had a reputation for being difficult to work with.
Despite his personal struggles, Lewis’s musical legacy continues to influence generations of musicians. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and continues to perform today, despite his advancing age.
So why was Jerry Lee Lewis called “The Killer”? Some say it was because of his intense and energetic performances on stage. Others speculate that it was because of his wild and unpredictable behavior off stage. Whatever the reason, there is no denying that Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the most influential and controversial musicians in rock ‘n’ roll history.