In the ’50s, America’s moral guardians were calling rock & roll the devil’s music. All they needed was proof. On May 22, 1958, Jerry Lee Lewis provided it for them when he revealed he had a new bride, Myra Gail Brown, who just happened to be his 13-year-old cousin. The ensuing scandal virtually halted his career overnight.
At the time, Lewis, 22, was hotter than Elvis, with such hits as ”Great Balls of Fire” and ”Breathless.” When he arrived in London for a 37-date tour, he introduced Myra to journalists as his 15-year-old wife of two months, and the news spread faster than one of the Killer’s piano licks. A little research soon disclosed that Myra (Lewis’ third wife, and the daughter of his bass player) was not only a mere 13 and his cousin, but also his wife of nearly five months. Worst of all, he had not yet divorced his previous spouse of five years, Jane Mitcham.
The reaction was swift and decisive. ”The baby-snatching antics of this bigamist are very much the affair of Britain’s teenagers and their parents,” ran one editorial in a London newspaper. Cries of ”Cradle robber!” rang out at Lewis’ shows. After only three concerts in increasingly emptier auditoriums, the remaining tour dates were canceled. Upon returning to the States and finalizing his divorce from Mitcham, Lewis remarried Myra on June 4, 1958. But by then it was too late. His single ”High School Confidential” stalled at No. 21 on the charts. Dick Clark of ABC’s American Bandstand refused to book him, as did other concert promoters. Most damaging of all, radio stations wouldn’t play his records.
For the next several years, Lewis played backwater clubs. In April 1962, tragedy struck Myra and Jerry Lee when their 3-year-old son, Steve, drowned in their pool. Lewis made a comeback in 1968, scoring top 10 hits as a country artist, but in 1970 Myra filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery and abuse. In the ’80s, Lewis nearly died from a stomach ulcer, had two wives die (from drowning and a drug overdose, respectively), and was plagued by tax problems. A Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Jerry Lee, 58, still performs, but he is known as much for his unpredictable nature as for his music.
Myra, now 49 and an Atlanta real estate agent, recounted her marriage to the Killer in her 1982 book, Great Balls of Fire! Still in contact with Jerry Lee (they have a daughter, Phoebe, 30), she is writing a second book. Its working title: Don’t Shoot the Piano Player-Let Me
TIME CAPSULE May 22, 1958 J. Edgar Hoover’s Masters of Deceit was a best-seller, the Everly Brothers crooned ”All I Have to Do Is Dream,” Natalie Wood’s Marjorie Morningstar lit up the screen, and Rod Serling’s ”Bomber’s Moon” glowed on Playhouse 90.