Jerry Lee Lewis' Life Was Even Wilder Than You Knew

Bill Wyman gives us an incredible portrait at 'Vulture'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 31, 2022 11:00 AM CDT
This Profile of Jerry Lee Lewis Is One Very Wild Ride
Chuck Berry, left, and Jerry Lee Lewis embrace at a reception at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York on Jan. 23, 1986. Spokesperson Zach Furman said Lewis died Friday morning at his home in DeSoto County, Miss. He was 87.   (AP Photo/G. Paul Burnett, File)

Jerry Lee Lewis' Friday death brought a sea of tributes and obits, none quite like the one penned by Bill Wyman for Vulture. Wyman's in-depth write-up has it all: details from Lewis' youth, a recounting of how he first got signed to Sun Records (when he and his father went to Memphis for his initial meeting, they stayed in a building with running water for their first time ever), and all those salacious marriage details, well beyond what's long been reported about 13-year-old bride/second cousin Myra Gale. When the two married, Lewis had already been married twice and was divorced from neither wife. He would end up being married seven times; his fifth wife was dead within 77 days of their wedding, and "the blood and broken glass in the house and the fact that the body had been moved after she died—suggests that the full story has not been told," Wyman notes.

Wyman doesn't mince words: Lewis "was a thief, a bigamist, an adulterer, a sexual predator, a family abandoner, and a liar, and felt—knew—society's rules didn't apply to him to such an extent that he acknowledged the fact flatly." But he was also something else musically: He could replay any song he heard after a single listen. "He played with a concussive boogie-woogie beat, but that's like saying Jackson Pollock painted," writes Wyman, who describes Lewis' talent at length ... as well as his ego. While Wyman can find no proof that one famous tale—in which Lewis supposedly lit a piano on fire so Chuck Berry, the slated show closer, couldn't play it—actually happened, it's the kind of thing you'd be inclined to believe about Lewis, who was "pantingly desirous of stardom." (Read the full story, which delves into more of his flaws, his arrests, and the country-music fame he later found.)

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