Jerry Lee Lewis death: ‘Great Balls of Fire’ singer dies aged 87

Rock’n’roll trailblazer Jerry Lee Lewis has died aged 87.

Associated Press reports that the influential musician’s representatives have confirmed his death at home in Memphis, Tennessee.

Considered one of the earliest pioneers of rock’n’roll, Lewis was born on 29 September 1935, in Ferriday, Louisiana. He began teaching himself to play piano at the age of 9.

In 1956, Lewis moved to Memphis where he auditioned to become a session musician at Sun Records. Within a year he was recording with the label’s stars Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins. Together they were known as the “Million Dollar Quartet”.

“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On” gave Lewis his first hit as a solo artist in April 1957. The follow-up, “Great Balls of Fire”, was an even bigger success and gave “The Killer” his signature tune.

Released in December 1957, it went on to be used prominently in films such as 1986’s Top Gun and this year’s sequel Top Gun: Maverick. The song’s title gave its name to a 1989 biopic, which starred Dennis Quaid as Lewis.

In 1958, now internationally famous, Lewis arrived in London for a British tour accompanied by his wife Myra Gale Brown. She was 13 years old and Lewis’s third cousin. Lewis, 22 at the time, claimed she was 15 but when the press discovered her real age the tour was engulfed in scandal and the remaining shows were cancelled.

Lewis continued to tour and release music for the rest of his life, reinventing himself in the Sixties and Seventies as a country and gospel performer. In 1986 he was among the first group of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, James Brown, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and the Everly Brothers.

Earlier this year, Lewis was the subject of Ethan Coen’s documentary Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind. On 16 October, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. According to a post on the musician’s official Facebook page he was “too ill with the flu to attend the ceremony.” Longtime friend and collaborator Kris Kristofferson accepted the honour in his place before driving to Memphis to present the award to Lewis in person.

Lewis’s death had been prematurely reported earlier this week. In a statement confirming his passing, Lewis’s representatives described the musician as: “Perhaps the last true, great icon of the birth of rock‘n’roll, whose marriage of blues, gospel, country, honky-tonk and raw, pounding stage performances so threatened a young Elvis Presley that it made him cry.”