Singer Jerry Lee Lewis was known for his flamboyance and his controversial marriages. His fifth union to Shawn Michelle ended after her mysterious death, and the singer shocked many when he came to the funeral in his wedding attire.
Jerry Lee Lewis is known as "rock n' roll's first great wild man" and one of the most influential pianists of the 20th century. His performances have been ardent, and his music a worldwide phenomenon.
Despite his musical success, his personal life has been peppered with tragedy, scandals, and controversy — from the mysterious deaths of some of his wives and sons to bigamy and allegedly marrying an underage cousin.
Singer Jerry Lee Lewis in 1958 [Left] Lewis weds Shawn Michelle Stevens at his home in Nesbit, Mississippi on June 7, 1983 [Right] | Source: Getty Images
One such controversial moment in the singer's life was when his short-lived marriage to Shawn Michelle and her consequent mysterious death almost brought the world to a standstill.
After the death of Lewis's fourth wife, Jaren, who drowned as the couple awaited the final settlement of their divorce, Lewis did not waste any time in finding love again.
The following year, in June 1983, he married his fifth wife, 25-year-old Shawn Michelle Lewis. Their marriage was "far from ordinary" and lasted a short 77 days before tragedy struck the Lewis abode once more.
"The Killer" Jerry Lee Lewis weds his fifth wife, Shawn Michelle Stevens at his home in Nesbit, Mississippi on June 7, 1983 | Source: Getty Images
On August 24, 1983, the Lewis home housekeeper found Michelle in the couple's bedroom of their rambling brick home in Nesbit, Mississippi. She was unresponsive and was pronounced dead on-site, with autopsy reports showing her to have suffered pulmonary edema — a buildup of fluid in the lungs.
According to the medical examiner on the case, Jerry Francisco, such buildup is "consistent with a drug overdose." However, Mortician Danny Phillips believed there had been more to her death as he'd found bruises on her wrist as if "someone had grabbed her."
He also reported that she had a broken fingernail with blood under the rest, suggesting foul play. Michelle's family was not content with Francisco's reports and hired Attorney Michael Blake, who said the case was "just plain incompetency or a coverup."
Singer Jerry Lee Lewis on October 3.1991 in München | Source: Getty Images
Eventually, the jury ruled Michelle's death as suicide. During her funeral service at the Assembly of God church in Ferriday, Louisiana, Lewis shocked everyone when he came in dressed in clothes similar to those he wore on his wedding day.
He had on a red ruffled shirt and a white suit. Janice Kleinhans, Michelle's mother, who had fought for the unclear details of her daughter's mysterious death to come to light, said of the singer's attire:
"He looked like he was going dancing."
Jerry Lee Lewis at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison, Wisconsin, February 18, 1982 | Source: Getty Images
After Lewis's cousin, Gerald, read the eulogy, a baby-blue hearse carried Michelle's brass and ivory-colored coffin to the Lewis family plot in nearby Clayton, Louisiana, where they laid her to rest. Lewis was tight-lipped about the incident, but would later say he did not know what to think of Michelle's death.
LEWIS FINDS LOVE AGAIN
After his fifth wife's demise, Lewis began searching for consolation, which he found at Hernando's Hide-a-Way, a road stop near the Tennessee-Mississippi border. There, 21-year-old Kerri McCarver soothed the crowd with country songs every night.
American rock n' roll singer and pianist Jerry Lee Lewis poses with his wife Kerri Lyn McCarver and their young son, Jerry Lee III, circa 1989 | Source: Getty Images
It remains unclear how their relationship budded, but she reportedly moved into the "Wild One!" singer's Mississippi home soon after. Just like all other Lewis's wives before her, she appeared to have married into real trouble.
Later, she would disclose that the singer repeatedly hit, cursed, and threatened her and had extramarital affairs. Nevertheless, she stood by him through thick and thin, even when he appeared in front of a federal judge for charges of income tax evasion.
Musician Jerry Lee Lewis with 6th wife Kerrie and their son Jerry Lee III at opening of film about his life Great Balls of Fire. | Source: Getty Images
His 21-year marriage to McCarver was the singer's longest-running one, and they had one son Jerry Lee Lewis III. Unfortunately, they got divorced in June 2005.
Today, he is happily married to his 7th wife, Judith Coghlan Lewis. They married on March 9, 2012, and have been going strong since. In 2021, the 85-year-old crooner renewed his wedding vows to Coghlan in an intimate ceremony at his Mississippi home.
The couple held hands as their 100 guests enjoyed the white wedding cake topped with figures of an embracing couple. The singer who raised hell in the 50s with hits such as "Great Balls of Fire" chatted briefly with his guests before retiring to a more private area in the house.
LEWIS LOST TWO OF HIS SIX CHILDREN IN BIZARRE ACCIDENTS
Musician Jerry Lee Lewis performs at the Empire Polo Club on April 28, 2017 in Indio, California. | Source: Getty Images
Lewis is not new to controversy, but he has also been a victim of the worst tragedies any parent can face. In 1962, disaster struck the Lewis home when his 3-year-old son, Steve Allen Lewis, who he shared with his third wife, Myra Gale Brown, died in a drowning accident.
Years later, his other son, Jerry Lee Lewis Jr., from his second marriage to Jane Mitchum, died in an automobile accident when his jeep overturned. Lee Jr was close to his dad and even played drums in Lewis's band at some point. Asked if the demise of his sons made his stronger, he would say:
"Well, I don't know if it made me stronger or not, sir, but it got my attention real good, I know. That was a very hard time, a very sad time for me. But I pulled through it. I buried my own. I took care of everything."
ROCK 'N' ROLL'S FIRST GREAT WILD MAN
Jerry Lee Lewis poses for a studio portrait in 1957 in the United States. | Source: Getty Images
Lewis first came on to the music scene in the mid-50s and soon became recognized as a pioneer of rock and roll and rockability due to his high energy stage presence.
His hit songs, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "High School Confidential," "Breathless," and "Great Balls of Fire" became so popular that the singer earned himself a nickname — "Rock 'n' Roll's First Great Wild Man."
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician Jerry Lee Lewis performs onstage at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on November 17, 2018 in Cerritos, California | Source: Getty Images
Speaking to Daily News, the ferocious musician said that those that gave him the nickname had not been, in any way, out of line. Asked what he thought of his monicker, he answered:
"Well, it's an honor, but I wouldn't say they're wrong. Audiences enjoy my performing style and the musical craziness of my show."
Lewis, also widely known as "The Killer," says that his style is all about the music and ensuring his audiences have plenty of fun. Today, he enjoys a quiet life in his Mississippi home with his seventh wife, who he says is the love of his life.