MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Jerry Lee Lewis, the last surviving member of the Million-Dollar Quartet at Sun Studio, has passed away at the age of 87, his publicist confirmed Friday.
The music world is mourning the loss of a Mid-South man being called one of the greatest entertainers and piano players ever. For decades, Jerry Lee Lewis was known to fans simply as The Killer for his songs and the way he rattled the ivory. It was a musical ability that he knew was a gift.
Friends and fans say nobody played the piano like Jerry Lee. Even as a kid, his piano teacher found that out the hard way when Jerry Lee gave him a lesson on how music should be played.
His music would take him from his home in Louisiana to Memphis to record at Sam Phillip’s Sun Studio. This was the place where Jerry Lee would make records and history with one hit song after another. His first big hit was called “Crazy Arms.”
Later, as a part of the Million-Dollar Quartet at Sun Studio along with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins, he turned vinyl records into gold.
Hit records lined the walls of his home in Nesbit, Mississippi, but he continued touring and electrifying audiences by kicking over the piano bench on stage. He even recorded a new CD called “Rock ‘n Roll Times.”
You might think one of his all-time favorite songs might be “Great Balls of Fire” or “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” but it’s not.
“My favorite song, I guess would be the ‘Old Rugged Cross’. That’s my favorite song,” Lewis said in an interview.
The man was once nicknamed the rock n’ roll’s first wildman because of his public and private life. Lewis’s turbulent personal life was hidden from the public until a May 1958 British tour where a reporter learned about Lewis’s third wife, Myra Gale Brown. She was Jerry Lee’s first cousin once removed and was only a teenager at the time. Jerry Lee was 22 years old.
The publicity caused an uproar and at the time hurt his career. Despite the controversy, Jerry Lee was devoutly Christian. He was also said to be troubled by the sinful nature of his own material, which he firmly believed was leading him and his audience to hell.
It’s perhaps why he said his favorite song is a reflection of his faith.
Lewis was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and his pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. In 1989, his life was chronicled in the movie “Great Balls of Fire,” starring Dennis Quaid.
In 2012, he was also married for the seventh time. His wife, Judith, said their love, his music, and the opening of the Jerry Lee Lewis Cafe and Honkytonk on Beale Street kept him young.
“He never left Memphis. He loves Memphis,” Judith said in an interview at the time.
On October 16 this year, Lewis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Jerry Lee Lewis is remembered for the way he lived, the way he played his piano, and for making unforgettable music.