May 22

This Day in History

Music

May 22, 1958:

Jerry Lee Lewis drops a bombshell in London

The arrival in the United Kingdom of one of the biggest figures in rock and roll was looked forward to with great anticipation in May of 1958. Nowhere in the world were the teenage fans of the raucous music coming out of America more enthusiastic than they were in England, and the coming tour of the great Jerry Lee Lewis promised to be a rousing success. "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Great Balls Of Fire" had both been massive hits in the UK, and early demand for tickets was great enough that 27 appearances were booked in what promised to be the biggest tour yet by an American rock-and-roll star. There was just one problem: Unbeknownst to the British public and the organizers of the coming tour, Jerry Lee Lewis would be traveling to England as a newly married man, with his pretty young wife in tow. Just how young that wife really was would be revealed on this day in 1958, when Jerry Lee "The Killer" Lewis arrived at Heathrow Airport with his new "child bride."

It was an inquisitive reporter for the Daily Mail named Paul Tanfield who unwittingly broke the scandal when he inquired as to the identity of an especially young woman he'd spotted in the Killer's entourage. "I'm Myra, Jerry's wife," said Myra Gail Lewis. Tanfield followed up with a question for the Killer himself: "And how old is Myra?" It was at this point that Jerry Lee must have cottoned to the fact that the rest of the world might take a somewhat skeptical view of his third marriage, because the answer he gave was a lie: "Fifteen."

Myra Gail Lewis was actually only 13 years old, a fact that would soon come out along with certain other details, such as the fact that she was Jerry Lee's first cousin (once removed) and that the pair had married five months before his divorce from his second wife was made official. Jerry Lee tried to set minds at ease on this last point—the second marriage was null and void, he explained, because it had taken place before his divorce from his first wife—but even the most skilled public-relations expert would have had a hard time spinning the unfolding story in Jerry Lee's favor.

As the press hounded Jerry Lee and Myra Gail Lewis over the coming week, the Killer tried to go on with business as usual, but his first three shows drew meager audiences, and those that did buy tickets showered him with boos and catcalls. When the Rank chain of theaters cancelled the rest of his dates and his fashionable Mayfair hotel encouraged him to seek lodgings elsewhere, Jerry Lee Lewis left the UK, less than a week after his dramatic arrival on this day in 1958. Back home, he would face a blacklisting from which his career would never fully recover.

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