This time no more room for doubt: Jerry Lee Lewis, rock'n'roll legend, died at 87

No more room for doubt this time: Rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis 'n'roll, died at 87

MISE À DAY

One of the last great rock and roll pioneers, American musician Jerry Lee Lewis, has died at the age of 87, his agent told AFP on Friday.  

Eternally associated with the song “Great Balls of Fire”, renowned for his strong stage presence and dynamic piano style, rock legend from southern Louisiana, Jerry Lee Lewis died of natural causes, the same source said.

“He is ready to go,” his wife Judith reportedly said shortly before his death, according to a statement.

Both friend and rival of King Elvis Presley himself, Jerry Lee Lewis had influenced a whole generation of musicians, like Bruce Springsteen who said about him in 1995: “He doesn't play rock'n'roll, he's rock'n'roll. »

He was as famous for his hits as for the dramas and scandals that marked his existence.

“There was rockabilly, there was Elvis. But real rock'n'roll didn't exist before Jerry Lee Lewis came on the scene,” declared the man with blond curls who spoke of himself to his biographer in his strong southern accent.

“When people think of me, I would like it not to be for my wives, even if I had a few, nor for the villas and the money I had or spent. I would like to be remembered just for my music,” he said. Pure performer, he did not write his songs.

Farm mortgaged

Born on September 29, 1935 into a poor family in Ferriday, Louisiana, he discovered the piano at the age of 9 and his parents mortgaged the family farm to pay his instrument.

Raised in a Pentecostal family, he was sent to a Christian institution in Texas to become a pastor, but was fired, according to him “for playing My God Is Real with boogie-woogie sauce”, which he already mastered brilliantly.

In 1956, he left for Memphis (Tennessee), the mecca of new American music, and was one of the first to sign with the famous label Sun Records. His meeting, that same year, with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins gave birth to a legendary recording session known as the “Million Dollar Quartet”.

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In 1957, his first title, “Whole lotta shakin' goin' on”, already bears the mark of his disheveled style. 

While rock was still in its infancy, crowds flocked to see him pounding the keyboard fiercely with his fingers, elbows or feet, his hair swinging furiously to the frantic rhythm as he sends his stool waltzing in a wild dance step.

“If I go to hell, I'll go playing the piano”, liked to say this eternal rebel, provocative to the point of setting fire to his piano at the end of a concert, reinforcing his reputation as the “bad boy” of rock. .

A few months later, “Great Balls of Fire”, which would also be the title of a docu-drama on his life in 1989, propelled him to the top of sales and made him the one of the most adored stars of the moment.

Scandal and boycott

He is ready to conquer Europe when the press discovers that his third wife, Myra Gale Brown, is his 13-year-old first cousin.

The news causes a scandal in Great Britain and American radio stations decide to boycott the singer, who fell out of favor for half a dozen years before resurfacing by abandoning rock for country music.

The next two decades were marked by his divorce from Myra, the brutal deaths of his 3-year-old (drowning) and 19-year-old (car accident) sons, and his fourth (found dead in his piano-shaped swimming pool) and fifth. (overdose, according to the police) wives.

Fantasic and sometimes violent, alcohol and drugs have earned him serious health problems and as many problems with the police. In 1976, he was arrested in the middle of the night, drunk and armed, after breaking down the gate of Graceland, the property of Elvis Presley in Memphis.

But the legend did not weaken, on the contrary, and he was one of the first musicians inducted into the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” (museum and pantheon of rock, in Cleveland, Ohio), when it was created in 1986.

In 2006, he recorded a new acclaimed album by critics, “Last Man Standing”, featuring the Stones, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, then “Mean Old Man” in 2010, with Eric Clapton and Springsteen.

He spent part of his last years on his ranch in Nesbit, Mississippi, with his seventh wife, and was still performing in early 2019. But, following a minor stroke in May of that year, he had canceled concerts.