The story behind Great Balls of Fire singer Jerry Lee Lewis’ marriage to his 13-year-old cousin
Jerry Lee Lewis surprised his 13-year-old cousin by taking her to a Mississippi wedding chapel—when she thought they were just going to watch a movie.
Lewis, who was 22 at the time, was the cousin of Myra Lewis Williams.
Their marriage caused a scandal and for a time derailed Lewis’ career, who died on October 28 at the age of 87.
Williams – who did not attend his funeral on Nov. 5 and said she could not remember the last time they spoke – revealed Friday that their marriage came as a shock to her.
Lewis told her they were going to watch a movie near her home in Memphis, Tennessee.
But instead, he drove them across the state line to Hernando, Mississippi — her hometown on either side of the Tennessee-Mississippi border — and they married. At the time, marriage was legal in Mississippi for anyone over the age of 12. Lewis had obtained a marriage certificate under false pretenses.
‘Oh my God! I was one of the few people, if not the only one in the world, who had a surprise wedding,” Williams said on Friday. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Myra Williams in a photo posted in 2015. She is 78 years old today. She and Lewis divorced in 1970, after 13 years of marriage
Lewis and Williams were married in 1957 in Hernando, Mississippi. she was 13; he was 22. Her father wanted to shoot him
Williams said that although she was characterized as a “child bride” when news of her marriage to Lewis broke out, within their relationship things were quite the opposite.
“I was devastated.
‘I was 13 years old and he was a man. I was a teenager. I liked attention.’
The couple met when Williams’ father, a musician, traveled 320 miles south from their home in Memphis to Ferriday, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River.
JW Brown, Williams’ father, was looking for someone to record with him at Sun Studios in Memphis, and learned that his cousin Jerry Lee Lewis was a talented performer.
Brown bought married Lewis to stay at his home, and he began courting Brown’s daughter, despite being married to his second wife, Sally Jane Mitcham.
Williams said there was no attraction.
“Well, he was wearing a red plaid shirt, he had a really bad haircut and his ears were sticking out. It wasn’t like wow, look at this handsome man,’ she said.
“He grew out of it well.”
Lewis took teenage Williams to Dairy Queen, and she said she never knew he was interested in her.
“Jerry treated me like a little friendly teenager who he was nice to,” she told the newspaper.
“Hey, you wanna go to Dairy Queen and get a root beer float?” It didn’t look like I had any designs on me by Jerry.’
Myra Lewis Williams married the rock legend – her first cousin ever removed – when she was 13 years old
Williams bought a house for the family while Lewis was on tour, and also bought a red Cadillac convertible that he asked to pick up
Lewis was the last survivor of the rock and roll generation, which included Elvis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry
Lewis is pictured, far left, recording with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and others at Sun Studios, Memphis, in the 1950s. The microphone they sang in, pictured in the foreground, was auctioned off in 2004
Lewis died last month at the age of 87. He is pictured at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards in February 2005 at the Staples Center
He was still married to Mitcham when he married Williams.
She said she was happy with the wedding, although her father grabbed his gun and threatened to shoot him.
“He didn’t take advantage of me. He surprised me,’ she said.
“But I was the more mature person. Jerry was having fun and being a kid and throwing gum around.’
“I was the adult in the room. Always,” said Williams, now 78.
She managed their finances and houses and bore him two children.
Their son, Steve, was born when she was 14 and drowned when he was three in a pool accident.
Their daughter, Phoebe, was born four years after Steve and lives in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Williams filed for divorce after 13 years, with her husband becoming increasingly confused by drink and drugs and abuse.
Myra Lewis Williams pictured on the back of her 2016 book, The Spark that Survived
Jerry Lee Lewis pictured in the last photo taken of him before his death along with fellow music legend Kris Kristofferson
Ronnie Lewis, son of rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis, walks past his father’s coffin for his funeral, while flowers, portraits and memorable photos were on display
Donna Hoffmann, third cousin of rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame Jerry Lee Lewis, sees his coffin covered in flowers and portraits before the start of his funeral service
Mourners are seen outside Young’s Funeral Home in Ferriday, Louisiana
Judith Brown, Lewis’s seventh wife, was wearing an all-black outfit and sunglasses when she was seen leaving her late husband’s funeral
Williams moved to Georgia, settled in Duluth and worked in real estate with her second husband, Richard Williams.
The now retired couple met when she applied for a job at his office: they have been married for 39 years.
The 1989 film Great Balls of Fire starring Dennis Quaid and Winona Ryder was released, based on the book Williams co-wrote.
She hated the movie, angry at Ryder’s portrayal of her as a child chewing gum.
“Hollywood gets everything wrong,” she said.
Williams said she didn’t want to attend Lewis’s funeral in part because she didn’t want to crossbreed his seventh and final wife, Judith Brown.
Judith is her older brother’s ex-wife.
“I just don’t want to be around her,” she said.