The original wild man of rock ‘n’ roll Jerry Lee Lewis passed away on 28 October, just days after his death was falsely reported by tabloid news outlet TMZ.
The ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ singer passed away at his home in Mississippi with his wife Judith by his side. He was 87 years old. Previously, TMZ had erroneously reported his death days earlier, which was repeated across multiple news channels before being quickly retracted.
His death was confirmed by Lewis’s agent, who described him as “perhaps the last true, great icon of the birth of rock’n’roll”.
Nicknamed ‘the Killer’, Jerry Lee Lewis remains one of the most influential and controversial figures in rock ‘n’ roll, renowned for both his outrageous stage performances and an often scandalous personal life.
Lewis notoriously married his 13-year-old cousin once removed Myra Gale Brown when he was 22, a salacious fact that briefly halted his career in the late ‘50s when it was discovered by a journalist.
He also courted highly publicised controversy with a string of firearms offences, including drunkenly brandishing a pistol outside Graceland mansion demanding to see Elvis Presley in 1967. Earlier that year, Lewis accidentally shot his bass player Norman ‘Butch’ Owens in the chest with a .357 magnum.
Consequently, the question has been raised as to whether Lewis should be remembered as a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer or a violent predator.
It has become increasingly difficult to separate the art from the artist as the cultural zeitgeist shifts focus from celebrating the music they made to examining the type of person they were.
More and more we are being asked to scrutinise the actions of our favourite artists, which until recently have been quietly filed away under the untold history of rock ‘n’ roll.
The music industry has always been a hive of excess where indiscretions both minor and felonious have been covered up for the sake of preserving an artist’s public value.
Yet, for better or worse, we are living in an age of heightened social awareness that doesn’t allow secrets like these to remain hidden for long. As seen with the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, rock ‘n’ roll’s dark, dirty deeds are being brought into the light of day. Its skeletons are rattling their chains and demanding to be heard.
Nevertheless, Jerry Lee Lewis’ passing has elicited an outpouring of tributes from the international music community, including Sir Elton John, Ronnie Wood and Ringo Starr.
The influence of Jerry Lee Lewis is indisputable, but a shadow lingers over his legacy. Ultimately, how he is remembered will be decided by his fans and listeners.