Jerry Lee Lewis, the rock’n’roll pioneer whose frenetic, raucous music and chaotic personal life scandalised the older post-war generation, has died aged 87. He was idolised by the pop stars of the day and responded by pouring contempt on their success and insisting he was the king, greater even than Elvis.
He said: “We only got one life to live. I know what I am. I’m a rompin’, stompin’, piano playing sonofabitch. A mean sonofabitch. But a great sonofabitch.”
He was born 29 September 1935 at 3pm Ferriday, Louisiana and raised in rural poverty on the borders of the Mississippi river. His family attended the Assembly of God church, and spoke in tongues. His cousin Jimmy Swaggart sang with Lewis during their childhoods and would go on to become one of America’s most famous Television evangelists (felled by sex scandals). All of his life Lewis struggled with a profound conflict between Old Testament notions of faith and temptation – as he went on to live a life marred by drunkenness, drug addiction, womanising and seven marriages.
His biographer wrote of his life: “havoc inevitably reigns: in-laws go mad or become accident statistics, offspring die horrible, mangled deaths, wives drown or suffer inexplicable fatal overdoses … record people are terrorized, audiences verbally and physically attacked, promoters bankrupted, journalists threatened with broken bottles … while The Killer just keeps on rocking”.
His career stalled after it emerged he had married a 13 year old second cousin, which was not thought odd in the milieu of his upbringing and he was unrepentant, eventually clawing his way back to the top as king of Country & Western.
Like many old rock’n’rollers it is a miracle he survived with a crippling drug habit in the 1960s and rampant alcohol consumption causing a near fatal stomach rupture in the 1980s, in and out of rehab and a stroke in 2019.
He had an intense, deeply buried 8th house Libra Sun on the focal point of a Yod to Saturn in Pisces sextile Uranus in Taurus. This would give him problems with his ego – too much and too little, so he’d swing between self-doubt and then overdo the overwhelming self-confidence with a tendency to abuse his dominance.
His Pluto was strongly aspected in square to Moon and Mercury and trine a lucky, successful Jupiter on his Midheaven – emotionally possessive, dogmatic in his opinions and pushily self-assured.
Plus an ambitious and scattergun Mars in Sagittarius in his career 10th in a hard-edged, not-always-kind square to Saturn opposition Venus – no surprises his emotional life was a constant war zone. His Mars was also sextile his Sun and in a showbizzy square to an 8th house musical Neptune. Such a Mutable Mars would give him high-levels of dynamic energy and nervous tension but would tend to send him off in a frenzy of impatience.
He certainly changed the course of musical history in an extraordinary way.