'I was the adult, he was the child': Jerry Lee Lewis' child bride Myra Brown recalls turbulent marriage

'I was the adult, he was the child': Jerry Lee Lewis' child bride Myra Brown recalls turbulent marriage
Jerry Lee Lewis' career went for a toss after his marriage to his 13-year-old first cousin Myra Gale Brown (Hulton Archive/Getty Images and Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Jerry Lee Lewis, who died aged 87 due to natural causes on Friday, October 28, was arguably one of the most influential pianists of the last century. However, his career went for a toss after his scandalous marriage to his 13-year-old first cousin Myra Gale Brown.

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Lewis had been married seven times, and his third marriage to Myra in 1957, when he was 22 years old, is said to have ruined his career. He was boycotted from music and blacklisted at venues after his marriage. The UK media began referring to the rock n roll pioneer as a “cradle robber” and “baby snatcher”.

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Lewis and Brown had two children, Steve and Phoebe. However, their marriage ended in 1970 when Myra filed for divorce on the grounds of adultery and abuse. When Myra looks back at the time now, she wonders whether it was all a dream. 

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“But it happened,” the 78-year-old author and former real estate agent told Los Angeles Times after Lewis' death. “It did. It all happened to me.” “Yes, it was turbulent as a teenager to be a wife and mother,” Myra said. “But in going through it, I’ve found my strength. And there’s almost nothing that can knock me off my block at this point.”

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“I was the bad thing in his life,” she said. “It was because of our marriage that his career hit the pavement. You know, you were judged for everything you did back then.”

American rock musician Jerry Lee Lewis hugs his second cousin and third wife Myra Brown as they arrive in the airport from London after his tour of England was cancelled, New York, May 28, 1958. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Jerry Lee Lewis hugs his second cousin and third wife Myra Brown as they arrive in the airport from London after his tour of England was canceled, New York, May 28, 1958 (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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After Lewis' marriage to Myra, radio stations stopped playing his music. Sun Records, his label, refused to promote him, and he stopped getting offers to perform. “I was called the child bride, but I was the adult and Jerry was the child,” Myra said. “When I look back on it, how can you defend yourself when you’re 13 years old? I mean there’s no excuse good enough for that to be OK.”

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When Lewis had nothing, Myra bought the couple’s home and even the car he wanted. She recalled how he told her to find a red Cadillac convertible, and she did. “I mean, I didn’t even have a driver’s license,” she said. “I did all the work and made all the decisions and did all the running and taking care of business and that kind of stuff.”

Myra said she even managed the finances. “One time I went to the bank with a big sack of money to deposit it ... and the teller said to me, ‘Myra, there’s a policeman sitting there outside in his car and he followed you here. So when you get ready to leave, I’ll drive you home,’” she said.

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Myra recalled how happy their relationship was before Lewis began doing drugs. The two of them would have pillow fights, crack jokes and play around. When he began doing drugs, he changed drastically. “His personality just became mean. And nasty. It was like a whole different man. Just bad, you know?” she said.

After their divorce, Myra married briefly again. It was an 18-month romance that she described as “an absolute fiasco and stupid.” She is now married to Richard Williams, and they own an estate company in Atlanta. They have both retired from day-to-day business.

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Lewis died a few weeks after the death of Myra's father, JW Brown. She said she does not remember the last time she spoke with Lewis. Asked what advice she would give to her 13-year-old self, she said she did not know what it might be. “I wouldn’t go back and change it if I could,” she said. Then she stopped and thought for a second and began to laugh. “I might tweak it a little. I would tweak it a lot. I would tweak the hell out of it. I would be smarter.”

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“But how smart can you be when you’re 14 years old?” she asked. “You’re a stupid kid at that age. You’re just not ready for it. You’re not ready for prime time.”

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