Pioneering US rock and roll musician Jerry Lee Lewis dies at 87

© Rick Diamond, AFP

Jerry Lee Lewis, a kingpin of 1950s American rock and roll who played a pivotal role in shaping the genre's nascent sound, has died. He was 87 years old.

Famous for his flowing blond locks, rowdy piano beats and outrageous stage presence, the star best known for his classic "Great Balls of Fire" died of natural causes, his publicist told AFP on Friday.

"He is ready to leave," his publicist quoted the artist's wife Judith as saying.

A friend and rival of Elvis Presley, Lewis' career spanned more than half-a-century and generated a wealth of wild stories about his numerous wives, drunken rampages, and run-ins with the government over back taxes.

It also generated a string of indelible hits.

Born September 29, 1935 in Ferriday, Louisiana, Lewis took to the ivories at age nine. The following year, his parents Elmo and Mamie mortgaged the family farm to buy him an upright piano.

Along with his cousins Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart -- who would respectively go on to become an award-winning country musician and a scandal-tainted evangelist -- Lewis spent hours perfecting his craft.

'The Killer'

In 1956, Lewis struck out for Memphis, Tennessee -- the southern American city famous as a cradle of soul, blues and rock -- to link up with the producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records, who was instrumental in Presley's astronomical rise.

Lewis, Presley and Johnny Cash got together with Carl Perkins at the studio for the famed "Million Dollar Quartet" jam session that year, which was released much later to acclaim.

(AFP)


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