There’s a “whole lotta shaking goin’ on” in the great beyond right now as Jerry Lee Lewis passed away today, Oct. 28, at the age of 87.
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His death marks the final member of the famed “Million Dollar Quartet” to pass away, the troupe comprised of Lewis, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins who met one fateful night in 1956 at Sun Studios in Memphis for an impromptu jam session that turned into a record-selling album and inspired a Broadway musical.
Though Lewis’ death was misreported earlier this week, representatives for the music star sent out a press release Friday confirming his passing at his home in DeSoto County, Mississippi, an area near Memphis where he got his music start more than 65 years earlier.
The press release stated Lewis had endured a stroke recently and “suffered through the last years of his life from various illnesses and injuries that, his physicians have often said, should have taken him decades ago,” though no clear cause of death was provided.
Over a course of a career that was rocked with both accolades and controversy, Lewis would become known as “rock ‘n’ roll’s first great wild man” as well as one of the most impactful pianists of the 20th century who lit up the charts for both rock and country and become a purveyor of rockabilly.
At the time of his death, Lewis was reportedly worth $10 million, per Celebrity Net Worth though CelebWorth.net estimates it a bit higher at $15.4 million thanks to six decades of music releases that topped charts of two different music genres. That includes his 2006 album, “Last Man Standing,” which sold a million copies and became the best-selling album of his career.
In addition to big numbers like the rocking “Great Balls of Fire,” Lewis had number-one country hits too like “There Must Be More to Love Than This” and a cover of “Me and Bobby McGee” that took off in the early ’70s. He’s also a four-time Grammy winner and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame just this week. Lewis was also ranked Number 24 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.
Lewis was born in 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana to a poor farmer family. It’s reported that his parents mortgaged their farm to buy the budding talent his first piano. And once he hit his first note, it was clear the child could play by ear, according to the press release. He grew up in a highly religious environment – his cousin was none other than televangelist Jimmy Swaggart – but church hymns only took him so far before the boogie-woogie took over, leading to a fruitful career.
In 1989, a biopic called “Great Balls of Fire” was made about his life starring Dennis Quaid in the lead. A new documentary is also forthcoming from director Ethan Coen. Called “Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind,” it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year.
Jerry Lee Lewis is survived by his wife, Judith Coghlan Lewis, who was by his side at the time of his death.
“He said he was ready to be with Jesus,” she shared of her husband’s passing.
Lewis’s other survivors, per the press release, include his children Jerry Lee Lewis III, Ronnie Lewis, Pheobe Lewis and Lori Lancaster; sister Linda Gail Lewis; cousin Jimmy Swaggart, as well as many grandchildren, nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents Elmo and Mamie Lewis, sons Steve Allen Lewis and Jerry Lee Lewis Jr., his siblings Elmo Lewis Jr. and Frankie Jean Lewis and his cousin Mickey Gilley.
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Services and more information will be announced in the following days. In lieu of flowers, the Lewis family requests donations be made in Jerry Lee Lewis’ honor to the Arthritis Foundation or MusiCares — the non-profit foundation of the GRAMMYs / National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
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