Jerry Lee Lewis is undeniably a musical legend. The singer, songwriter, and pianist has frequently been described as rock n roll’s first great wild man as well as one of the most influential pianists of the 20th century. But you can learn all about that by simply reading Lewis’s Wikipedia page. In this video, we’ll instead be diving into a darker chapter in the ‘Great Balls of Fire’ crooner’s all-over-the-place life story.
It’s been said plenty of times before that we can’t expect to hold people’s past actions to today’s standards. And while that might be true in some cases, there are a few things that stars simply shouldn’t have gotten away with back in the day.
Take filmmaker Roman Polanksi for example. Back in 1977 – just three years after making Chinatown, Polanksi was arrested at the famed Beverly Wilshire Hotel for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl named Samantha Galley. Polanksi’s egregious actions are not excusable by any kind of outmoded and frankly disgusting ways of looking at the past.
But just like Polanki, Jerry Lee Lewis too once got involved with a 13-year-old. Shockingly, he even ended marrying her! More startling than that is the fact that said girl was also his cousin! Seriously, we can’t make this stuff up!
Myra Gale Brown was still into Mickey Mouse and probably believed in Santa Claus when she got married to the Grammy award-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. Not surprisingly, the public didn’t react to Lewis’ marriage too kindly. After marrying Myra Gale Brown, Lewis’s musical career took a nosedive. His popularity quickly faltered following the scandal, and he wasn’t able to find much success in the early 60s. He later did make a comeback as a country star, but by then, the damage to his reputation had already been done.
This is one story that is almost beyond belief. For one, why would any grown man ever want to marry a child? And on top that, a child that’s related to them! Keep watching to hear all about this uncomfortably difficult to talk about topic. And no, just because it was the 60s didn’t make it okay in the least bit. Let’s go ahead and stop making excuses for child exploiters. If Lewis had done what he did today, he’d be locked up just like R. Kelly.
Third Times The Charm?
By 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis had already gone through two failed marriages. In fact, he married his second wife, Jane Mitcham, just 23 days before his divorce from his first wife Dorothy Barton was finalized. So, right out of the gate, we’re not off to a good start. In case you didn’t know, it’s crime to be married to two people at the same time. But then again, it doesn’t seem like Lewis ever really cared that much about abiding by the law.
On the 12th of December, 1957, Lewis married his third cousin, 13-year-old Myra Gale Brown. A lot has already been written and discussed about Jerry’s close-blood relationship with Myra. And like we already mentioned, this was a girl that was likely more interested in playing with dolls and watching Saturday morning cartoons when she got hitched to the then 23-year-old singer.
As much as this marriage makes us squeamish today – and rightfully so – it’s worth noting that marrying a third cousin wasn’t that uncommon for people back in the mid-20th century. It also was reasonably commonplace for 13 years to get married. Once again, that seems pretty disgusting from a modern perspective, but apparently, people were a bit more open to such things back then.
As hard as it already is to accept that fact that a grown man married his kid cousin, Lewis, as we already addressed briefly, complicated matters further by marrying Brown before his divorce from his second wife had gone through..
While Lewis didn’t experience much pushback from his inner circle, the world responded to the news of his marriage in a very different way. You see, Lewis didn’t seem to understand that this marriage was offensive to most urban markets and people from other nations.
Sun Records producer Jud Phillips had advised Lewis against bringing his young bride with him to England for his first European tour. Jerry, always being one to stubbornly stick his guns, decided to buck Phillip’s advice and took her anyway.
As soon as they stepped off the plane on the 22nd of May, 1958, Lewis unapologetically informed the British press that Myra was his wife. Although he must have known that some people would find his marriage at least somewhat off-putting because he lied about her age and said that she was 15 at the time that they actually got married.
Myra in turn told the crowd that 15 wasn’t too young to marry because, and I quote, back home ‘you can marry at 10″ if you are able to find a husband. We’ll just let that one sink in for a second….
Robbin’ The Cradle
The media, both in England and the US, quickly learned the truth about Myra’s age and the date of her and Lewis’s wedding. As soon as this news broke, the press’ response was immediate and damning.
The British press took to calling Lewis a cradle robber and a baby snatcher. They then proceeded to heavily criticize his performances which were known for being hit-or-miss depending on what kind of mood the unpredictable rocker was in. They further called for a mass boycott of Lewis’s concerts.
One paper even when as far as to suggest Jerry’s deportation. After numerous tour dates were canned, Jerry and his child bride left the country.
After their plane landed in New York, Jerry discovered that the scandal had hopped across the pond to follow him like a curse. This effectively cut his once-thriving career short at it’s peak. For the longest time, it seemed like Lewis could do no wrong. In fact, the only other artist that seemed to be capable of giving him a run for his money was Elvis Presley. But seemingly overnight, the musical empire that he had worked so hard to build came crashing on down.
It didn’t help his case either that his latest single at the time was called ‘High School Confidential’. Seriously, this guy had no shame.
The American press proved to be equally harsh as their Brit counterparts, and Jerry Lee Lewis’ fee for making personal appearances quickly slid from $10,000 a night down to a measly $250. Lewis went on to attempt to apologize for his actions by remarrying Myra in a ceremony that he thought would validate their relationship. He even went as far as penning an open letter to Billboard magazine expressing his love for her, but nobody was having it. The damage had already been done.
Jerry failed to see what all the controversy was about. In one interview, he was quoted as saying, ‘I plumb married the girl, didn’t I?’. Clearly, he didn’t see what the problem was. In his eyes, he had done the honorable thing, but in reality, there was nothing admirable about marrying ones 13 year old cousin. Even more surprising is the fact that when the two got hitched, Lewis had moved in with Myra’s parents. So, you have to question what they were thinking as well, right?
Maybe Lewis was taking notes from his rival Elvis, who after leaving the Army too fell in love with a teenage girl. When reporters asked Lewis about his marriage, he frequently would tell them that as long as both parties were in love with each other, it was all right with him.
While that sentiment is arguably true amongst consenting adults, clearly you have to draw a line when it comes to people marrying people that have barely hit puberty! The fact that Lewis couldn’t wrap his mind around that is downright dumbfounding!
Jerry Lee Lewis eventually was able to stage a comeback of sorts in the late 60s as a country singer. Perhaps, among country fans, his actions weren’t viewed with as much outrage, or maybe by then some of the controversy surrounding his marriage had died down. Either way, he still was able to reach the same heights that he had at one time enjoyed.
Lewis outlived Elvis, but his career as a rock and roll star was forever tarnished by the scandal of marrying Myra. The two ended up getting divorced in 1970. In 2004, divorce prceedings began between Lewis and his sixth wife, Kerrie McCarver, whom he tied the knot with in 1984.
Lewis went on to marry his seventh wife, Judith Brown, on the 9th of March, 2012.
In case you were curious, Myra is still alive and well to this day. She and Lewis had two children together, a son named Steve Allen Lewis, who tragically drowned to death when he was just 3 years old, and a daughter named Phoebe, who managed her father’s career and lived at his ranch home in Nesbit, Mississippi.
The day after Lewis married Judith, however, who mind you was the ex-wife of the brother of Myra Gale Brown, Lewis severed his business ties with Phoebe and revoked her power of attorney. In 2017, he sued his daughter and her husband, claiming that they owed him a ‘substantital sum of money’. He also claimed that Phoebe had defamed him on Facebook.
In 2019, US District Attorney Neal Biggers made a ruling that the majority of claims Lewis made were barred by the statute of limitations.
As far as Jerry Lee Lewis goes, he’s now 87. While he rarely makes public appearances, in 2020, he celebrated his 85th birthday with a livestream on Youtube, Facebook, and his website. The quintessentially COVID-era remote performance features appearances and performances by fellow legends Elton John, Mike Love, Willie Nelson, and Priscilla Presley.
A little under a year before that event, Lewis suffered a minor stroke in Memphis, Tennessee, on February 28, 2019. He fully recovered from that episode but was forced to cancel his upcoming performances.
In 2022, Ethan Coen directed a documentary entitled Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble Mind Mind. The film does a great job tackling Lewis’ prolific musical career while also honing into some of his more controversial moments – including his marriage to Myra.
That about wraps up this fact-packed video. But after you’ve heard what we have to say, we’d love to hear from you!
Did you know that Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-year-old cousin and that his music career quickly faltered afterward? Let us know in the comments!