Jerry Lee Lewis vs Elvis Presley: How rivalry for title of 'King of Rock 'n' Roll' almost ended in murder

Jerry Lee Lewis vs Elvis Presley: How rivalry for title of 'King of Rock 'n' Roll' almost ended in murder
Jerry Lee Lewis (right) was arrested for threatening Elvis Presley (left) outside his Graceland home in 1976 (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images and mugshot Memphis Police Department/web)

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE: Jerry Lee Lewis, the unstoppable pioneer of rock 'n' roll died at the age of 87 at home in Memphis, Tennessee. His incredible talent, energy and ego collided on such classic albums as 'Great Balls of Fire' and 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On', sustaining a career that might have otherwise been destroyed by an incident with the legendary Elvis Presley.

Lewis was the last surviving member of a generation of ground-breaking musicians that also included Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. There was a long history between Elvis and Lewis. Elvis first met Lewis in July 1954 when he visited his friends at Sam Phillips' Sun Studio where his counterpart was playing piano. Sam Phillips was searching for fresh stars at the time because Elvis had already made a name for himself on the RCA label. With songs like 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' and 'Great Balls of Fire', Phillips helped Lewis become Sun's biggest seller after seeing his devil-driven musical enthusiasm.

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Jerry Lee Lewis speaks at the Country Music Hall of Fame 2022 inductees presented by CMA at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on May 17, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Jerry Lee Lewis died at the age of 87 (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Later on, in 1976, the encounter between them went in a different direction when Lewis showed up at Elvis' place with a gun. Lewis received a gun on his 41st birthday when he was enjoying champagne at a Memphis nightclub called the Vapors. When he suddenly remembered that Elvis wanted to meet him, he jumped into his brand-new Lincoln Continental and sped off for Graceland while holding a loaded gun on the dashboard and a bottle of champagne under his arm. He slammed into the renowned Graceland gates unintentionally just before three in the morning.

At the gate, Presley's surprised cousin Harold Lloyd observed Lewis, who was extremely unstable, calling out Elvis repeatedly. On the closed-circuit television, Elvis instructed his cousin to call the police. When the Memphis police discovered the pistol in the car, they handcuffed Lewis who was screaming, yelling and threatening them. Lewis was accused of being intoxicated in public and carrying a gun. After being freed on a $250 bond, his defiant mugshot spread over the world. Nine months later, Presley himself suffered a heart attack and tragically died at Graceland.

Lewis briefly competed in 1958 to succeed Presley as rock's top hitmaker when Presley was enlisted in the army. However, the media discovered three negative things while Lewis was on tour in England: He was married to Myra Gale Brown, his cousin, who was 13 years old (or perhaps even 12 years old), while he was still married to his first wife. His tour was called off, radio stations stopped playing his music and his revenues decreased dramatically overnight. Lewis battled drug and alcohol addiction and legal issues during the ensuing decades. His wives' early deaths occurred in both of his marriages. Early in the 1970s, Brown herself had a divorce from him, and she later said that he had been abusive to her mentally and physically, almost driving her toward suicide.

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