Rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis has died aged 87

Rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis has died aged 87


Jerry Lee Lewis, a kingpin of 1950s American rock ‘n’ roll who played a pivotal role in shaping the genre’s nascent sound, has died. He was 87 years old.

Famed for his flowing blonde locks, rowdy piano bangs and outrageous stage presence, the star, best known for his classic song “Great Balls of Fire,” died of natural causes, his publicist told AFP on Friday.

“He’s ready to go,” quoted his publicist Judith, the artist’s wife.

A friend and rival of Elvis Presley, Lewis’ career spanned more than half a century and spawned a wealth of wild tales about his numerous wives, drunken rampages and back-tax disputes with the government.

It also generated a string of indelible hits.

Born on September 29, 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana, Lewis began ivory at the age of nine. The following year, his parents, Elmo and Mamie, mortgaged the family farm to buy him a piano.

Along with his cousins ??Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart — who would go on to become an award-winning country musician and scandal-ridden evangelist — Lewis would spend hours perfecting his craft.

– ‘The killer’ –

In 1956, Lewis made his way to Memphis, Tennessee — the South American city famed as the birthplace of soul, blues, and rock — to team up with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records, who was instrumental in Presley’s astronomical rise.

Lewis, Presley and Johnny Cash met Carl Perkins in the studio that year for the famous “Million Dollar Quartet” jam session, which was not released until much later.

Lewis rose to fame the next year with his breakout hit Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On – whose provocative lyrics shocked some radio stations, who initially refused to play it.

Its follow-up, Great Balls of Fire, remains one of the best-selling singles of all time and was also the title of a 1989 docudrama about Lewis, starring actor Dennis Quaid.

In the summer of 1958, Lewis – nicknamed “The Killer” – shot to the top, fans flocked to shows, money poured in, and a third hit, “Breathless,” worked its way up the charts.

At a time when Rock was still wet behind the ears and even the slightest twist of Presley’s lower body caused a sensation, Lewis carried it on, pounding the keys with his hands and feet – sometimes jumping onto his grand piano to squeals of joy.

“Who knew it would be me?” A statement from his publicist quoted the rocker in his final days.

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