You probably don’t think often whether someone will go to Heaven or not. But there’s one American music icon who doesn’t think he’ll make it to Heaven.
Jerry Lee Lewis is a rock n roll legend and, now in his eighties, remains just as popular. He’s influenced a slew of musicians who came after him and we expect he’ll continue to be an influence on American music.
But how did it all get started for Jerry Lee Lewis? How did he become a talented musician, singer, and songwriter? And what were the struggles in his life?
Well, not many people can boast about several marriages, run-ins with the IRS, and a rivalry with a fellow rock star. But these are some of the reasons why Jerry Lee Lewis isn’t sure about his next destination in the next life…
Let’s learn about the incredible life and career of Jerry Lee Lewis…
Today, the town of Ferriday, Louisiana boasts a small population of just above 3,500 people. Yet, this charming small town claims to have produced more famous Americans per square mile compared to any other town in the country!
Jerry Lee Lewis was born on September 29, 1935, in Ferriday, Louisiana. He grew up in a poor family who, nonetheless, were willing to support him in his endeavors. At a young age, he developed a keen interest in playing the piano.
He began studying the piano with his two cousins, Mickey Gilley – who became a popular country music performer, and Jimmy Swaggart, who became a famous televangelist.
His parents mortgaged their farm so that they could buy young Jerry a piano! He began playing piano each day and even began singing. Jerry had a range of musical influences ranging from country music to the “juke joints” that were popular among Black Americans in the South.
Jerry’s first Live Performance
He gave his first live performance in 1949 when he was 14 years old! Jerry Lee Lewis performed country songs at a local car dealership. He must have really impressed the customers because, since then, he’s hardly taken a break from performing!
Jerry began composing his own songs and continued to perform at local clubs, bars, and wherever he could. He also couldn’t have started his music career at a better time.
It was the 1950s, and a new genre of American music was being created. Rock n roll was a new iteration in the long line of “rebellious” American music. In fact, Jerry got thrown out of his religious school after singing a song called “My God Is Real” which was considered blasphemous!
If only they knew that he’d soon become known for setting a piano on fire while continuing to play and sing to packed auditoriums!
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JERRY’S MUSIC CAREER
When he reached his twenties, Jerry was now adamant about getting his music recorded. He showed up at the Sun Records office and refused to leave until producer Sam Phillips heard him perform.
Sam Phillips relented and gave Jerry a chance. Jerry’s first release, in 1956, was a complete failure. The song was called “Crazy Arms.” While it’s a great song, it couldn’t compete with “Heartbreak Hotel” released by Elvis Presley the same year.
Luckily, his second record release “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” became a huge hit! It’s still considered one of the most popular rock and roll songs ever recorded. While the original version was recorded by Big Maybelline, the Jerry Lee Lewis’ rendition remains the most popular version.
But what really brought him to international stardom was a song that’ll make you proclaim “Goodness Gracious” when you hear it! “Great Balls of Fire” is arguably Jerry Lee Lewis’s most popular song. Even if you aren’t familiar with his music, you’ve likely heard the song several times before!
But it wasn’t just the music that captivated audiences. It was also Jerry’s outrageous lyrics. His music was considered controversial for its time. Many established artists and record labels disdained his music. Many radio stations banned his music because they felt it was vulgar.
Jerry’s Music Career Success
Yet, the more he was banned – the greater his appeal became for youngsters. Of course, Jerry never felt that his music was vulgar or even risqué. He soon became enamored with his success and felt that no one could perform like he could.
Jerry managed to surpass rock n roll legends like Chuck Berry and even had a rivalry with the King of Rock, Elvis Presley.
He was one of the early pioneers of the “rockabilly” style. Jerry Lee Lewis released over 40 albums in 7 decades! Now in his eighties, he still performs on occasion. His music is considered a quintessential aspect of American popular culture.
So, what were the other controversies surrounding Jerry Lee Lewis? He didn’t think his music was vulgar…so why doesn’t he think he’ll make it to Heaven?
JERRY’S MARRIAGES AND CHILDREN
Much of the controversies and troubles in Jerry’s life concerned his several marriages and his family life.
Jerry Lee Lewis has been married 7 times! He married Judith Brown in 2012 when he was 76 years old!
His first marriage was when he was 16 years old. He married Dorothy Barton, the daughter of a local preacher and the marriage lasted for just under 2 years.
His second marriage was in September 1953 to Jane Mitchum. This marriage wasn’t considered valid as it occurred before he finalized the divorce from his first wife! He had two children with Jane before getting divorced in 1957 – after four years of marriage.
But perhaps his most controversial marriage was his third one. He was 22 and married his cousin, Myra, who was 13 years old. Jerry would lie and tell the public that she was 15 which greatly tarnished his public image. He first married her in December 1957, however, this wasn’t considered valid as his divorce from Jane still hadn’t been finalized!
They remarried in June 1958 and remained married for 12 years. With Myra, he had two children as well. He barely spent time with Myra as he was either touring or recording albums.
Jerry Lee Lewis Divorce
Nevertheless, Myra complained that she was subject to “physical and mental abuse” and filed for divorce in 1970. The marriage to Myra remains one of the most controversial aspects of Jerry Lee Lewis. Yet, this never hindered his popularity or his career.
His fourth marriage was to Jane Pate with whom he had one child. Jane had died from drowning in a swimming pool shortly before their divorce proceedings could be finalized. Their marriage lasted for close to 11 years.
His fifth marriage was to Shawn Stephens. The marriage only lasted 77 days. Her cause of death was a methadone overdose – however, it’s been suggested that she endured abuse from Jerry which led to her death.
His sixth marriage was to Kerrie McCarver which lasted for 21 years. He had his son, Jerry Lee Lewis III with her. He married Judith Brown in 2012, seven years after his marriage with Kerrie McCarver ended.
Jerry Lee Lewis has also had troubles with his children. Sadly, two of his children have passed away. His 3-year-old son, Steve Allen Lewis died from drowning in a swimming pool. Later, his 19-year-old son Jerry Lee Lewis Jr. died in a car accident in Nesbitt, Mississippi.
He’s also had troubles with some of his other children. He sued his daughter Phoebe because he alleged that she had deposited his earnings into a bank account that only she had access to. A judge eventually dismissed the case, stating that it had gone past the statute of limitations.
Much of Jerry’s troubles have come from his relationship with his wives and children. But he’s also had a few troubles outside of this. Much of the grief he’s experienced in his life made him turn to drugs. He’s had to go to rehab to kick his addiction – which consisted of marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol consumption.
Jerry also had a run-in with the IRS. The IRS claimed that Jerry owed millions of dollars in unpaid taxes. Many of his possessions had been confiscated by the IRS. While he was found not guilty of tax evasion in 1984, he still owed debts to the IRS. He had to pay debts of $3 million of which $2 million consisted of tax debts!
A mention should be made of Jerry’s rivalry with Elvis Presley. Their rivalry went back to the 1950s when Elvis would often outsell Jerry. Jerry once showed up to Graceland, the famous mansion where Elvis Presley lived.
Jerry claimed that Elvis wanted to meet him. When Jerry showed up, he was drunk, and happened to have a gun in his car – which he had been given earlier at a nightclub. He broke through the Graceland gates.
Elvis observed this through the CCTV cameras and had his staff call the police. Jerry was charged with public drunkenness and carrying a pistol. This was one of the most controversial episodes of his life.
Despite his controversies, Jerry Lee Lewis remains adored by fans all over the world. He still performs when he can and though his in his eighties, he still seems to possess the energy he’s always had.
His influence on rock and roll music is unparalleled. He’s one of the most prominent influences on American popular culture that we’ve ever had.
One can never know what happens to anyone in the next life. Jerry Lee Lewis doesn’t think he’ll make it to Heaven. Judging by his controversial life, many others might feel the same way.
But what we do know, is that, in this life, he brought us great music. If there’s a “whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on” and “great balls of fire” all over the place, you know who’s responsible!
Are you a fan of Jerry Lee Lewis?
Do you think that contemporary artists are aware of his influence on American music? Or do you think that new generations need to learn about his contributions to American popular culture?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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