Jerry Lee Lewis passed away Friday at age 87, and along with the outpouring of tributes to his talents came reminders of his notorious marriage to his 13-year-old cousin in 1957.
After the press found out in 1958 that Lewis, then 22, married his young cousin, the rock-and-roll star experienced a tremendous backlash that stalled his career for years. His bride, Myra Gale Brown, was also thrust into the spotlight, and years later discussed how she “never lost the first name ’13-year-old-child-bride-Myra.'”
Myra Lewis Williams, as she’s now known, made those comments to journalist Alan Light when he met up with her and Lewis for a 2010 story for Rolling Stone. After their divorce in 1970, Williams said she had been “subject to every type of physical and mental abuse imaginable,” but the two seemingly made peace later. Williams also covered their marriage in the 1982 book Great Balls of Fire, which was adapted into a 1989 film starring Dennis Quaid as Lewis and Winona Ryder as Williams.
Light later recounted in a story published in Medium’s Cuepoint in 2014 that Lewis and Williams “were playful and affectionate” during the photo shoot for the Rolling Stone story. Light wrote that the duo were “joking and giggling, poking and swatting each other, Jerry Lee even sneaking a kiss at one point…”
Jerry Lee Lewis and his 13-year-old wife, Myra, get set for a motorcycle ride on June 14, 1958. Lewis passed away Friday at age 87, and along with the outpouring of tributes to his talents came reminders of his notorious marriage to his 13-year-old cousin in 1957.
Williams described to Light the moment when the world learned of their scandalous marriage. Arriving for a tour of England, a journalist asked her who she was when the couple arrived to London’s Heathrow Airport.
“The only problem was that nobody told me anything,” Williams said, according to Light in Medium. “So when a reporter asked me, ‘Who are you?’ I was the one who let the big ol’ cat out of the bag. It was a perfect storm—it couldn’t have happened at a worse time, at a worse place. Everything just came together and a major explosion happened.”
The fallout began immediately after Lewis told the reporters that his wife was 15. His England tour was canceled and by the time he returned to the United States, the press had learned Williams was the daughter of Lewis’ cousin and bass player, J.W. Brown. They also discovered she was actually 13.
“They were looking for a place to stick the knife into rock & roll. And Jerry gave it to them—well, I did, I opened my mouth. That’s exactly what it was,” Williams told Light.
Williams said she considered herself an adult at the time of her marriage to the rock star, and people around the couple said she was “more mature than Jerry.” She also said she felt their marriage was their own business and not for the world to judge. Williams maintained it was a different time, and she would now discourage any 13-year-old girl from marriage and instead pursue going to college.
“I don’t think I ever resented it for me, though, I always resented it for what they did to Jerry,” Williams said of the marriage, per Medium. “It wasn’t harming me, it was harming somebody I loved, that was the pain of it.”
Meanwhile, Williams wrote in an Instagram post in 2015 that she had keep in contact with Lewis over the years due to their shared daughter, Phoebe. However, she indicated that his 2012 marriage to the ex-wife of her brother had put a strain on their relationship.
Newsweek attempted to reach Williams for comment.