Jerry Lee Lewis, whose hammering boogie-woogie piano, unleashed-tomcat voice, and unapologetic bad-boy persona made him an architect of rock & roll and an early rival of Elvis Presley, has died. Lewis’ publicist confirmed his death to Rolling Stone, but a cause of death was not immediately available; he was 87.
Lewis died at his home in Desoto County, Mississippi, with his seventh wife, Judith Coghlan, by his side.
Lewis’ two 1957 singles, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire,” were some of rock’s earliest and most primal hits: howling, whooping, libidinous performances that announced, as defiantly as any other records of the period, that a new style of music had arrived and would take zero prisoners. “I had created rock & roll before they ever thought about having rock & roll,” Lewis told Rolling Stone in 2014. “When Elvis come out, he was rockabilly. When I come out with ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,’ that was rock & roll. That’s when the name ‘rock & roll’ was put in front.”
“He’s the best rock & roll pianist ever,” Elton John said in 2007. “I couldn’t play like him because he’s too fast.”