Myra Lewis Williams, also known as Myra Gale Brown, was the third wife of late rock ’n’ roll pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis and — more infamously — his 13-year-old cousin at the time they got married.
So whatever happened to her? Williams, 78, said in 2016 that she’s been “right here” the whole time — but she apparently no longer had a relationship with her notorious ex-husband after 2015.
Lewis, who died Friday at age 87, weathered professional exile in 1958 after a reporter covering his arrival in London inquired about the young girl in his entourage who ultimately introduced herself as “Jerry’s wife.”
The “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Great Balls of Fire” hitmaker had eloped with Myra Gale Brown in December 1957, the result of a romance that developed when he moved into the Memphis home of Myra’s father, JW Brown, who was Lewis’ cousin and bass player, according to Lewis’ obituary in The Times.
Lewis was 22 and Williams was 13, and the press came down hard on him when it was revealed that she was also his second cousin and that Lewis was still married to his second wife, Jane Mitchum, when they wed.
The revelation resulted in the abrupt cancellation of Lewis’ tour; he was blacklisted by radio and his earnings dropped overnight. (Couples married young in his Louisiana hometown of Ferriday, and he wed for the first time when he was 16 and had seven wives over the course of his life.)
He continued to record music and perform in theater during that time and mounted a comeback about a decade later.
“When Jerry Lee and I went to England there was a whole lotta trouble going on… The press made me out to be a seductive Lolita, which was as far from the truth as it gets. Remember, gossip is not gospel,” Williams wrote on Instagram in 2015.
“It was really the first scandal of rock ’n’ roll,” Williams told Georgia’s Gwinnett Daily Post in 2016. “What was happening back then, rock ’n’ roll was coming on very, very strong. The preachers hated it. The radio stations that didn’t play it hated it. They called it the devil’s music. It was crude and rude and ridiculous what it was doing to the teenagers. Little did they know what it was going to turn into.”
The 1989 biopic “Great Balls of Fire,” which starred Dennis Quaid as Lewis and a 17-year-old Winona Ryder as Myra, was based on Williams’ first book of the same name. But it didn’t delve deep enough into exploring Lewis’ indomitable character. Instead director Jim McBride, who co-wrote the script with Jack Baran, “ends up simply satirizing the argyle innocence and daffy exuberance of the ’50s,” according to The Times’ review.
“‘Great Balls of Fire’ is the toon of rock movies, with Jerry Lee Lewis reduced on screen to Roger Rabbit,” Times music critic Robert Hilburn wrote at the time. “Jerry Lee Lewis may be a lot of things, but he’s not a simple cartoon.”
Williams again addressed their scandalous relationship in her 2016 memoir, “The Spark That Survived.” While promoting the book, she took to Instagram to air some of the sordid details. She described the memoir as her story “of how to overcome life’s worst tragedies and your own dumbass decisions.”
“I’m right here! With a new memoir, The Spark That Survived,” she wrote at the time, sharing an image emblazoned with “Whatever happened to Myra?” over an old photo of her and Lewis.
“If you think you know [my] story of being the 13 year old bride of my second cousin, you’re in for a surprise,” she teased. “My 1988 book and the resulting movie, Great Balls of Fire, were just the beginning. Now I’m older and wiser, and [not] malleable in the hands of others. This time there are no holds barred. I think this book will warm your heart, tickle your funny bone, and touch your soul. I hope my story helps you handle your own ups and downs. If I can survive life’s worst tragedies and my own dumb-ass decisions, you can, too.”
For her part, Williams said that she wasn’t a fan of her first book and its movie adaptation because they were someone else’s idea about how that part of her life story should be told, the Post said. She also described herself as “the adult in the relationship” with Lewis. (She filed for divorce in 1970, citing allegations of abuse and adultery.)
Her second book chronicled her experiences becoming a mother at age 14 and then again at 17 and losing their son Steve by accidental drowning in 1962. She also described Lewis’ drug addiction, being the victim of abuse, divorcing and jumping into a rebound marriage, the Gwinnett Daily Post said.
“That’s what this book basically is, this is what happened, this is how I handled it and here I am today,” she said. “I not only survived it, I’m better for it, having gone through it. I’m stronger and appreciate different things in life that a lot of people take for granted. … I guess I went through like a trial by fire. You come out of the fire you make it.
“This is the book I wanted to write then. I’m really glad I didn’t though because it’s gotten better as I’ve gotten older.”
In a separate Instagram post from 2015, Williams elaborated on her later relationship with the rocker, sharing a photo of them with their daughter, Phoebe.
“Because we have a daughter, Jerry and I remained in contact for many years,” she wrote. “Phoebe worked for him and when I visited her I would still see him, too. However, since his marriage a few years ago to my ex-sister-in-law, who wasn’t an ex yet when they got together (yes, you read that correctly), Phoebe quit working for him and I haven’t seen him since. He’s no longer part of my life. I find living is nice and calm this way.”
As of Friday afternoon, Williams had not released a public statement about Lewis’ death. Her Instagram account has been dormant since early 2016.
Lewis went on to marry four more times. Two of those unions ended in untimely deaths for the brides, and his fourth and final marriage came in 2012. It was to Judith Brown, who was the ex-wife of his cousin Rusty Brown, Myra’s younger brother.