One of the last great rock’n’roll pioneers, American musician Jerry Lee Lewis, has died at the age of 87, his agent told AFP on Friday.

Associated for eternity with the song Great Balls of Fire, renowned for his strong stage presence and his dynamic style on the piano, rock legend from Louisiana, Jerry Lee Lewis died of natural causes, said the same source.

“He is ready to go,” his wife, Judith, reportedly said shortly before his death, according to a statement.

Both friend and rival of King Elvis Presley himself, Jerry Lee Lewis had influenced a whole generation of musicians, like Bruce Springsteen, who said of him in 1995: “He doesn’t play rock’n’roll, he is rock’n’roll”.

He was as famous for his great musical successes as for the dramas and scandals that marked his existence.

“There was rockabilly, there was Elvis. But real rock’n’roll didn’t exist before Jerry Lee Lewis came on the scene,” said the man with blond curls, who spoke of himself to his biographer in his strong southern accent.

“When people think of me, I would like it not to be for my wives, although I have had a few, or for the villas and the money I have had or spent. I would like to be remembered just for my music,” he said. Pure performer, he did not write his songs.

mortgaged farm

Born September 29, 1935 into a poor family in Ferriday, Louisiana, he discovered the piano at age 9, and his parents mortgaged the family farm to pay for his instrument.

Raised in a Pentecostal family, he was sent to a Christian establishment in Texas to become a pastor, but was fired, according to him “for playing My God Is Real with boogie-woogie sauce”, which he already mastered brilliantly.

In 1956, he left for Memphis (Tennessee), the mecca of new American music, and was one of the first to sign with the famous record company Sun Records. His meeting, that same year, with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins gave birth to a legendary recording session known as the Million Dollar Quartet.

In 1957, his first title, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, already bears the mark of his disheveled style.

While rock is still in its infancy, crowds flock to see him pounding the keyboard fiercely with his fingers, elbows or feet, his hair swinging furiously to the frantic rhythm as he sends his stool waltzing in a wild dance step .

“If I go to hell, I will go playing the piano”, liked to say this eternal rebel, provocative to the point of setting fire to his piano at the end of a concert, reinforcing his reputation as a bad boy of rock.

A few months later, Great Balls of Fire, which will also be the title of a docudrama on his life in 1989, propels him into the top of sales and makes him one of the most adored stars of the moment.

Scandal and boycott

He is ready to conquer Europe when the press discovers that his third wife, Myra Gale Brown, is his 13-year-old first cousin.

The news caused a scandal in Great Britain, and American radio stations decided to boycott the singer, who fell out of favor for half a dozen years before resurfacing by abandoning rock for country music.

The next two decades were marked by his divorce from Myra, the brutal deaths of his 3-year-old sons (drowning) and 19-year-old sons (car accident) as well as the deaths of his fourth (found dead in his swimming pool in piano form) and fifth (overdose, according to police) wives.

Fanciful and sometimes violent, he has serious health problems because of alcohol and drugs and as many problems with the police. In 1976, he was arrested in the middle of the night, drunk and armed, after breaking through the gate of Graceland, the property of Elvis Presley in Memphis.

But the legend does not weaken, on the contrary, and he is one of the first musicians to be inducted into Rock

In 2006, he recorded a critically acclaimed album, Last Man Standing, featuring Keith Richards and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, then Mean Old Man in 2010, with Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen.

Jerry Lee Lewis spent part of his final years on his ranch in Nesbit, Mississippi with his seventh wife and he was still performing as of early 2019. But, following a minor stroke in May of that year he had canceled concerts.