Myra Lewis Williams admits that Jerry Lee Lewis didn’t make a good first impression. “His haircut was way too short, and his ears stuck out. He had a red plaid shirt and blue jeans, and he looked like a hick,” she tells Closer. But then he started playing piano. “That got my attention. I went, ‘Oh, my God. This man is some kind of talented.’”

The pioneering performer, famed for hits like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Breathless,” won four Grammys and was among the inaugural class of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; but news of his controversial marriage to the teenage Myra, who was the daughter of Jerry’s first cousin, nearly derailed his career. Despite the scandal, their union survived 13 years and produced two children before Jerry’s pill abuse drove Myra away.

In 1956, when Myra’s father, J.W. Brown, started a band with his cousin Jerry, the piano player moved into their family home. “He got my bedroom, and I had to sleep on the couch,” Myra, 79, recalls. Jerry, then 22, liked to tease Myra and often took her out for ice cream. “I thought he was just being nice to a kid,” she says, adding that she was stunned when he showed up with a marriage license one night. “He said, ‘Myra, I want to marry you. I love you.’ And I was like, what? I mean, I’m 13.”

The next night, Jerry invited Myra to the movies, but instead he drove her to a wedding chapel. “I’m the only person who had a surprise wedding,” says Myra, who said “I do” in the same red dress she’d worn to school that day.

When J.W. found out a few days later, he grabbed his gun and headed to the recording studio. “He wanted to kill him, and at the same time, he didn’t want Jerry to die,” she says. “He just didn’t want him married to his daughter!” Myra’s mother called ahead to warn Jerry to flee.

Jerry Lee Lewis at the Westbury Hotel With Wife Myra
Keystone/Getty Images

One Wild Life

Jerry bought a house, and Myra, whose marital status forced her to drop out of school, slowly adjusted to her new life. “I tried to learn to cook. I traveled with him,” she says, adding that the early years were good. “We were just as happy as two little bugs in a bush.”

But as his career took off, Jerry’s family began to resent Myra and tell him lies to drive them apart. “Jerry’s sister told me that Jerry was their ticket out of poverty, because if he got rich, they got rich,” she explains.

Myra put up with her in-laws’ abuse and the ugly headlines in the press when her age was discovered. She grieved with Jerry when their eldest child, Steve, drowned at age 3. She reached her limit when the pills Jerry took before shows made him behave like a different man. “It was a Jekyll and Hyde routine. He was one person in the light of day and another person at night when the moon came out,” says Myra. She filed for divorce in 1970.

Myra remained friendly with Jerry until his 2022 death. She also found the partner she longed for in her 1984 marriage to an Atlanta real estate broker. “We just love each other unconditionally,” she says of her husband, Richard. “In the end, it all turned out.”