'The last great icon of rock 'n' roll's birth': Jerry Lee Lewis, known for hit song 'Great Balls of Fire', dies aged 87

28 October 2022, 17:59 | Updated: 28 October 2022, 20:17

Jerry Lee Lewis has died
Jerry Lee Lewis has died. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Jerry Lee Lewis, best known for his song "Great Balls of Fire", has died aged 87.

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The singer-songwriter was mostly known for the 1957 smash hit, which featured in both Top Gun movies.

Zach Farnum, his publicist, said in a statement: "Lewis, perhaps the last true, great icon of the birth of rock 'n' roll, whose marriage of blues, gospel, country, honky-tonk and raw, pounding stage performances so threatened a young Elvis Presley that it made him cry, has died.

"He was there at the beginning, with Elvis, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, and the rest, and watched them fade away one by one till it was him alone to bear witness, and sing of the birth of rock 'n' roll."

Jerry Lee Lewis performing in 1982
Jerry Lee Lewis performing in 1982. Picture: Getty

Mr Lewis, who was nicknamed "The Killer", was also known for Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On.

He died at his home in Memphis, Tennessee. The news comes only a few days after a hoax report of his death was published in the US showbiz outlet TMZ.

The music world paid tribute to Mr Lewis after his death.

The Country Music Association tweeted: "It is with great sadness we've learned about the passing of Jerry Lee Lewis, who was just inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this month.

"We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones during this difficult time."

Jerry Lee Lewis playing in 1972
Jerry Lee Lewis playing in 1972. Picture: Getty

Collaborator Kris Kristofferson previously described Lewis as "one of the few who can do rock 'n' roll, country or soul, and every song is authentic".

He told USA Today that Lewis is "one of the best American voices ever".

Mr Lewis' life was marked by scandal as well as success. He was forced to pause his career aged 22, when he married his 13-year-old cousin.

He was born on September 29, 1935 in Louisiana, and moved to Memphis, Tennessee to pursue a music career.

Jerry Lee Lewis speaks at the Country Music Hall of Fame 2022
Jerry Lee Lewis speaks at the Country Music Hall of Fame 2022. Picture: Getty

He worked as a session musician for Sun Studios, playing with Mr Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins as The Million Dollar Quartet. The recordings were only released much later.

Mr Lewis rose to fame in 1957 with Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On, following up with Great Balls of Fire and Breathless.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash as "The Million Dollar Quartet"
Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash as "The Million Dollar Quartet". Picture: Getty

He became very well known around this time for his wild onstage persona, including setting his piano on fire.

Mr Lewis moved more into country music in the 1960s and 1970s, and carried on recording and performing until relatively recently.

Singers Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis in 1982
Singers Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis in 1982. Picture: Getty

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. The biopic Great Balls of Fire, in which Dennis Quaid played him, introduced a whole new generation of listeners to Mr Lewis' oeuvre.

'Pathos and pain' of Paul McCartney's music

Mr Lewis once said of his career: "I just think it's a blessing from God that I'm still living... and I'm still rocking." He is survived by his wife Judith.

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