Family and fans say goodbye to music icon Jerry Lee Lewis

FERRIDAY, La. (AP) — Family, friends and fans will gather on Saturday to bid farewell to rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis at memorial services held in his northern Louisiana hometown.

Lewis, known for hits such as “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, died October 28 at his home in Mississippi, south of Memphis, Tennessee. He was 87 years old.

Saturday’s funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Young Funeral Home in Ferriday, the town where he was born, family members said. A private burial will follow. At 1 p.m., a celebration of life is scheduled at the Arcade Theater, also in Ferriday.

Lewis, who called himself “The Killer”, was the last survivor of a generation of artists who rewrote the history of musica group that included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

After her personal life exploded in the late 1950s following the announcement of her marriage to her cousin, 13-year-old – possibly even 12-year-old Myra Gale Brown, while still married to her previous wife, the pianist and rock rebel was blacklisted from the radio and his income dropped to virtually nothing. Over the next few decades, Lewis struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, legal disputes, and physical illness.

In the 1960s Lewis reinvented himself as a country performer and the music industry finally forgave him. He had a string of top 10 country hits from 1967 to 1970, including “She Still Comes Around” and “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)”.

Lewis was the cousin of television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and country star Mickey Gilley. Swaggart and Lewis released “The Boys From Ferriday,” a gospel album, earlier this year. Swaggart will officiate at his funeral.

In 1986, along with Elvis, Berry and others, he was among the first class of inductees into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and joined the Country Hall of Fame that year. His life and music were reintroduced to young fans in the 1989 biopic “Great Balls of Fire,” starring Dennis Quaid, and Ethan Coen’s 2022 documentary “Trouble in Mind.”

A 2010 Broadway score, “Million Dollar Quartet”, was inspired by a recording session featuring Lewis, Elvis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

Lewis won a Grammy in 1987 as part of an interview album that was nominated for Best Spoken Word Recording, and he received a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement in 2005.

The following year, “Whole Lotta Shakin'” was selected for the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, whose board praised the “propelling boogie piano perfectly complemented by the dynamism of JM Van Eaton’s energetic drums. Listeners to the recording, like Lewis himself, found it difficult to remain seated during the performance.

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Associated Press writer Hillel Italy contributed to this report.

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