On Sunday, July 28th, 1957, The Killer performed to a national television audience on the Steve Allen show. Much has been written about the power of television to make or break o performer and Jerry Lee was very aware that his three minutes on the camera might be his last. He tore into "Whole Lot of Shakin'" with a ferocity only hinted of on the single. For most Americans this was their first taste of real "rock and roll"."Whole Lotta Shakin'" started moving up the charts and didn't stop until it held the number one spot in all fields of music--Pop, Country and Western, and R&B. Only two other people have accomplished this--Elvis and Carl Perkins. With his next release, The Killer would leave them all behind. "Great Balls of Fire" as well, would stand top the Pop, Country, and R&B charts. No one before or since has duplicated this feat, and probably never will.
In May, 1958 Sun released "High School Confidential" the title song of the movie of the same name that featured a Lewis cameo. On May 22, Lewis began a tour of England. Upon his arrival, Lewis' English record company, Decca, threw a cocktail party in his honor. As the story has been told many, many, times the British press, discovering his new bride to be only 13 years old and his second cousin (twice removed), and that he was not yet divorced from his previous wife attacked him mercilessly. Returning to the states, Jerry faced an equally hostile reaction. Record sales nose-dived as deejays refused to play his songs. On June 9, a published a letter in Billboard that said "I hope that if I'm washed up as an entertainer, it won't be because of this bad publicity." Lewis was still able to draw while touring, but his fee dropped from $10,00 to as low as $250 a night.
Lewis would suffer through six years of rejection by the industry and fans, but never gave up, played any jobs he could get and continued recording.
In 1962 he was welcomed back by the British, but it took longer for America to forgive him, and big success returned only in the late 60s with a string of top ten hits on the country charts.
In 1968 Lewis moved from rock and roll to become a country performer."Another Time, Another Place" topped the country chart in 1968. "What Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made A Loser Out of Me)" followed and was a hit in the country market, too. The next ten years saw him turning out more than a dozen best selling singles.
In 1969 John Lennon invited him to join Lennon's Rock 'N' Revival Concert in Toronto. In 1970 he signed with Mercury Records. That same year he was divorced from Myra and turn to alcohol and pep pills. His drug and drinking problems continued and in 1976 Lewis was charged with DWI, reckless driving and driving without a license. He clearly had a problem with addiction and these were some serious charges as any San Antonio DWI attorney would tell you.
Lewis' career has been marked by many tragedies. Two of his sons died accidentally, as did Jaren and Shawn two of his six wives . In 1975 the IRS took most of his personal property for back taxes, and in 1981 he almost died from a perforated stomach. In 1988 he filed for bankruptcy with three million dollars of debts with no assets.
His life was profiled in 1989 in the motion picture, Great Balls of Fire, starring Dennis Quaid, which did poorly. He then moved to Ireland, and news from overseas talked about missed shows, health problems, tax troubles and superb shows. In 1993 Lewis wrote and published his autobiography, Killer, with author Charles White. In April of 1996, Lewis was given a proclamation by the University of Memphis naming him a Professor of Rock 'N Roll and April 28th was named Jerry Lee Lewis Day in Memphis by Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist.
In March 1993 he opened Jerry Lee Lewis Spot a night club in Memphis, Tennessee located only a few blocks from 706 Union Avenue, the original home of Sun Records where it had all begun.
In 1994 he returned to the United States where the IRS had claims against him for four million dollars of unpaid taxes and interest, later reduced to one-half million. To help raise money he opened his house to tourist. The same year he signed with Warner Brothers and recorded new material.
Lewis, Berry,Charles at 1987 Hall induction
Jerry Lee Lewis inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986