SiriusXM Remembers Rock ‘n’ Roll and Country Legend Jerry Lee Lewis

Listen to exclusive specials and more.

Matt Simeone
October 28, 2022

Rock ‘n’ roll, country and rockabilly icon Jerry Lee Lewis died today at his home in Desoto County, Mississippi, a rep for his family confirmed to SiriusXM. He was 87.

Judith, Lewis’ seventh wife, was by his side when he passed away.

Earlier this month, Lewis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but was “too ill with the flu” to attend the ceremony. Instead, his friend and fellow music legend Kris Kristofferson accepted the medallion on his behalf.

Trailblazing Rock ‘n’ Roll

Known worldwide as “the Killer” due to his take-no-prisoners approach to playing the piano and singing, the Rock & Roll and Country Music Hall of Fame member was born on September 29, 1935, in Ferriday, Louisiana. Lewis had a strict religious upbringing, learning the piano in church alongside his first cousins Mickey Gilley and Jimmy Swaggart. In 1955, he moved to Memphis and auditioned for Jack Clement at Sam Phillips’ legendary Sun Studio. The Killer released his first single, “Crazy Arms,” on Sun Records the next year.

Related: SiriusXM Remembers Mickey Gilley, Legendary Country Entertainer

On December 4, 1956, 21-year-old Lewis joined a seminal jam session at Sun Studio. Also featuring Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins — an impromptu gathering immortalized as the “Million Dollar Quartet” — the session was a groundbreaking moment for rock ‘n’ roll and helped expose Lewis to a wider audience.

But it was Lewis’ timeless version of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” — recorded in one take in 1957 — that blew the gates wide open, establishing him as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s first superstars. More hits followed, including “Great Balls of Fire,” “Breathless,” and “High School Confidential.” But Lewis’ wild style and controversial personal life took its toll on his career.

Country Classics and More

After a lean period in the 1960s, Lewis returned to his country roots and had a string of honky-tonk hits — beginning with “Another Place, Another Time,” followed by more country standards like “What Made Milwaukee Famous” and “Middle Age Crazy.”

For the next several decades, The Killer continued rocking his life away, burning up stages around the world and appearing on TV and the big screen. In 1986, Lewis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He was also portrayed by Dennis Quaid in the 1989 film Great Balls of Fire.

Related: Remembering Loretta Lynn with George Strait, Sheryl Crow and More

Later Career

jerry lee lewisAfter his fellow Sun Records “Class of ’55”-mates Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash passed away, Lewis remained active in the 21st Century. He released the all-star project Last Man Standing in 2007, wrote a memoir with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Bragg in 2014, Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story. Despite battling serious health issues, he also continued to perform well into his 80s.

After its release in May 2022, the blockbuster movie Top Gun: Maverick helped introduce the Killer’s “Great Balls of Fire” (1957) to a younger generation. The Top Gun sequel’s Rooster character, played by Miles Teller, performs the classic hit on a piano in a bar. Rooster’s rendition is a nod to the memorable “Great Balls of Fire” scene in the original Top Gun featuring Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Goose (Anthony Edwards).

Most recently, Lewis was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame by his friends Hank Williams Jr. and Kris Kristofferson, although he was unable to attend the ceremony in person.

Lewis is survived by his wife, Judith Coghlan, and children Jerry Lee Lewis III, Ronnie Lewis, Pheobe Lewis and Lori Lancaster.

Hear Lewis’ Music and More

Listen to the two following specials back to back on Outlaw Country (Ch. 60) tonight (October 28) at 8pm ET, or on the SXM App after the premiere:

Jerry Lee Lewis Last Man Standing: Listen to Lewis’ exclusive conversation with DJ RigRocker from 2006 about the music legend’s Last Man Standing album.

Jerry Lee Lewis Live in Memphis: Experience Lewis’ concert performance recorded at the Jerry Lee Lewis Café & Honky Tonk in Memphis in 2013.

Plus, hear Lewis’ songs regularly on Willie’s Roadhouse (Ch. 59)’50s Gold (Ch. 72), ’60s Gold (Ch. 73), and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Radio (Ch. 310).

See more of SiriusXM’s rock ‘n’ roll and country music channels here.