Many remember Jerry Lee Lewis for the prolific music career that cemented his status as a rock ‘n’ roll icon before his death at age 87 Friday.
But that career hit a sharp nosedive in 1958, when the 22-year-old musician’s marriage to Myra Gale Brown, his 13-year-old cousin, became public.
In 2014, Brown, then 70 and known as Myra Williams, gave an interview to music journalist Alan Light published in Cuepoint, in which she reflected on her shocking relationship with Lewis.
“It’s not a story that ever went away. I’m still the 13-year-old child bride,” Williams, who became a real-estate broker in Atlanta, said. “Sometimes I say something about Jerry and people say, ‘Isn’t he the one married the little girl?’ and I say, ‘Wait a second, you’re talking to the little girl now—be careful what you say.’ “
Williams and Lewis divorced in 1970. Lewis had seven wives throughout his life, and Williams was his third.
Williams also recalled how she “let the big ol’ cat out of the bag” about their marriage to the press in London without realizing the backlash it would spark.
“In my little mind, I couldn’t believe that they could not see that I was a grown woman,” she said. “My generation was taught to hide under our desk when the bomb came, so you always had in the back of your mind that any minute, any day, life could come to an end.”
She continued: “If you say to me now, ‘There’s a 13-year-old girl over here who wants to get married,’ I would say ‘God, please do not do that, little girl. Go to college, get an education, then figure it out.’ But it was a different world, things have changed so drastically. Options, mindsets—this world has gone so fast the last fifty years that you can’t keep up with it.”
Williams also described how the revelation of their marriage hurt Lewis’ career, recalling how the musician’s “fame and money went down to almost nothing.” The challenges, however, brought them closer together, with Williams describing their following years together as “the happiest years of our marriage.”
“It was something that marked Jerry for life,” she said. “We kept thinking every year, every six months, that it was going to go away, they’re going to stop talking about it, and it just didn’t happen. But it brought me and Jerry very close, and we had ten incredible, wonderful years together after that. We were like a little camp that had been attacked by the enemy, and we held strong to each other and said, regardless of what they do, we’re going to keep fighting.”
According to Williams, her relationship with Lewis also gave critics of rock ‘n’ roll more leverage to attack the genre.
“They were looking for a place to stick the knife into rock & roll,” she said. “And Jerry gave it to them—well, I did, I opened my mouth. That’s exactly what it was.”
Williams penned two books discussing her relationship: “The Spark That Survived” in 2016 and “Great Balls of Fire: The Uncensored Story of Jerry Lee Lewis” in 1982.