The singer died at his home in Memphis, Tennessee, his agent confirmed.
The singer, who called himself ‘The Killer’, was one of the last few survivors of rock n’ roll’s golden era — a generation that included the likes of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry.
Paying tribute to this very fact, Lewis’s publicist, Zach Farnum, said in a statement: “He was there at the beginning, with Elvis, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, and the rest, and watched them fade away one by one till it was him alone to bear witness, and sing of the birth of rock n’ roll.”
Famed for hits like ‘Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On’ and ‘High School Confidential’, Lewis was also known for his stage antics, which included lighting the occasional piano on fire.
During a performance of ‘Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On’ for a television show, chairs were thrown at him.
Away from the stage, however, Lewis’ life was often beset by scandal.
In 1958, the press discovered that Lewis had been married to his cousin, Myra Gale Brown, who was then just 13-years-old — all whilst he was still married to his previous wife.
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As a consequence, his tour was cancelled, radio play virtually diminished and his earnings were reduced to almost nothing. This all came at a time when Elvis Presley had been drafted into the US army, and Lewis would likely have taken his place as the number one US rocker.
By the 1960s, however, Lewis had reinvented himself into a country singer and the industry eventually forgave him. Lewis’ personal life would still be rocky: he was married seven times in total and would struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.
In total, Lewis won three Grammys in his career and worked with some of the greatest in the industry, including Mick Jagger, Sheryl Crow and Tim McGraw.
Sir Elton John was among those paying tribute to Lewis today, describing him as a “trailblazing inspiration”, adding: “Without Jerry Lee Lewis, I wouldn’t have become who I am today”.