Dec 12, 1957: Jerry Lee Lewis Marries Cousin, 13

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JLL & Myra Gale

Myra Gale and Jerry Lee Lewis

It was the time when Jerry Lee Lewis could have broken through to huge stardom. In late 1956 he showed up at Sun Records in Memphis and cut a demo of Ray Price’s “Crazy Arms” and his own composition “End of the Road,” got a record deal, started playing sessions on piano for other Sun acts, and began cutting his own hits like “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “You Win Again,” “Breathless,” “Down the Line” and “High School Confidential.”

On December 4, Elvis Presley stopped by Sun one evening during a Carl Perkins recording session. Johnny Cash was also there and Lewis was playing on the session. The impromptu tracks the four recorded that night got them dubbed “The Million Dollar Quartet,” and helped denote Lewis as one of Sun’s primary artists.

By 1958 Presley was shipping off to do time in the U.S. Army, leaving an opportunity open for an artist to take his rock ‘n’ roll title. Lewis was primed to possibly do so until he went to the U.K. for a tour in May. When he arrived at Heathrow Airport, a reporter learned that his young wife Myra Gale was only 13 years old and his first cousin (once removed). Lewis was 22. The news scandalized Great Britain, caused the tour to be canceled and all but killed Lewis’s career back home. He went from earning hundreds of dollars a show to less than $100 an appearance. His records dried up at radio.

Related: Lewis receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Yet Lewis is such a formidable talent that over time he has been recognized as one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest singers, songwriters and performers. The shocked English and many Americans failed to realize that marriages between first cousins and of girls of Myra Gale’s age at the time were not uncommon within the poor white deep South culture that Lewis hailed from. (He had already married twice before, and was still technically married to his second wife when he married Myra.) Although Lewis was not an easy man to be married to and had a major abusive streak, it is largely believed that she was the wife he always loved most, and even she says they had “10 wonderful years together.”

Lewis died on October 28, 2022, at age 87.

Related: First generation rockers: Who’s still with us?

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